Review of “Gentleman Jim” by Mimi Matthews

Matthews, Mimi. Gentleman Jim. [California]: Perfectly Proper Press, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1733056960 | $3.99 USD | 376 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

From USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews comes a swashbuckling tale of Regency era romance and revenge.

“One of the most highly anticipated books of the fall historical romance lineup.” –Austenprose

She Couldn’t Forget…

Wealthy squire’s daughter Margaret Honeywell was always meant to marry her neighbor, Frederick Burton-Smythe, but it’s bastard-born Nicholas Seaton who has her heart. Raised alongside her on her father’s estate, Nicholas is the rumored son of notorious highwayman Gentleman Jim. When Fred frames him for theft, Nicholas escapes into the night, vowing to find his legendary sire. But Nicholas never returns. A decade later, he’s long been presumed dead.

He Wouldn’t Forgive… 

After years spent on the continent, John Beresford, Viscount St. Clare has finally come home to England. Tall, blond, and dangerous, he’s on a mission to restore his family’s honor. If he can mete out a bit of revenge along the way, so much the better. But he hasn’t reckoned for Maggie Honeywell. She’s bold and beautiful–and entirely convinced he’s someone else. 

As danger closes in, St. Clare is torn between love and vengeance. Will he sacrifice one to gain other? Or, with a little daring, will he find a way to have them both?

Review

5 stars

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

Gentleman Jim is very different tonally from the previous Mimi Matthews book I read, and I found myself surprised by how much I still enjoyed it. While it still being on the sweet side in terms of steam level was a given, I was concerned about the parallels being drawn to works like The Count of Monte Cristo, and the subheading denoting the story one of “romance and revenge.” Revenge plots have never been my thing, and they almost always reflect badly on the “hero.” 

But I need not have worried, as Matthews deftly handles these themes, while also managing to make it a believable sweet romance (although this is probably her most sensual, without being super-explicit). Nicholas/John is at heart a good person and he never fully loses that, even as he seeks vengeance against those who wronged him. There’s also a delightful mystery surrounding his circumstances and double identity, and I love the way that was conveyed.

Maggie is also a wonderful heroine, constantly fighting for her own happiness. I loved her unfailing belief  in Nicholas also being John, even as he tries to deny it.

With lots of twists and turns, this is a compelling story that had me swept up in the sense of adventure and intrigue. It’s a delightful addition to Matthews’ catalog, and perhaps the one that will have the most broad appeal among historical romance readers. 

Author Bio

Mimi Matthews is the author of The Pug Who Bit Napoleon and A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty. She researches and writes on all aspects of nineteenth century history—from animals, art, and etiquette to fashion, beauty, feminism, and law. Her articles have been published on various academic and history sites, including the Victorian Web and the Journal of Victorian Culture, and can also be found at BUST Magazine.

Mimi’s writing and research have been referenced in such diverse web and print publications as Smithsonian MagazineThe Paris Review, The Journal of Civil War Medicine, and Apartment Therapy. Her work is frequently used in high school and college classrooms as part of an English or History curriculum.

When not writing historical nonfiction, Mimi is a USA Today bestselling, award-winning author of proper historical romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Library JournalPublishers Weekly, and Kirkus. Her debut Victorian romance was released in September 2017.

In her other life, Mimi is an attorney with both a Juris Doctor and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. She resides in California with her family—which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats.

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Review of “Simmer Down” by Sarah Smith

Smith, Sarah. Simmer Down. New York: Berkley, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1984805447 | $16.00 USD | 336 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

In this finger-licking good rom-com, two is the perfect number of cooks in the kitchen.

Nikki DiMarco knew life wouldn’t be all sunshine and coconuts when she quit her dream job to help her mom serve up mouthwatering Filipino dishes to hungry beach goers, but she didn’t expect the Maui food truck scene to be so eat-or-be-eaten—or the competition to be so smoking hot.

But Tiva’s Filipina Kusina has faced bigger road bumps than the arrival of Callum James. Nikki doesn’t care how delectable the British food truck owner is—he rudely set up shop next to her coveted beach parking spot. He’s stealing her customers and fanning the flames of a public feud that makes her see sparks.

The solution? Let the upcoming Maui Food Festival decide their fate. Winner keeps the spot. Loser pounds sand. But the longer their rivalry simmers, the more Nikki starts to see a different side of Callum…a sweet, protective side. Is she brave enough to call a truce? Or will trusting Callum with her heart mean jumping from the frying pan into the fire? 

Review

3 stars

I adored Faker, in spite of the fact that it wasn’t as much of a hit with everyone else, so I was bummed to find Simmer Down was not as good a follow-up, especially when there were so many elements to appeal to me, from the Maui setting to the promise of food porn.

In both those aspects, at least, it met my expectations. The scenery is picturesque, and it captured my nostalgia for a long-ago childhood visit to Maui, with some of the names being familiar to me as those I had visited, and others in a general sense. As for the food porn, I found myself regretting the moments I’d pick the book up to read on an empty stomach, with the descriptions of lumpia and pancit, among other Filipino dishes. 

And I generally liked Nikki, particularly her bond with her mother, leading her to work in the food truck. She also has a generally great relationship with others in the community.

However, the romance was…all over the place. It started off as enemies to lovers (or at least dislike to lovers), and then it was like a casual fling, and things just changed so quickly in the dynamic between Nikki and Callum, without there being a ton of nuance. I wanted more focus on one thing, and development of that, as the way it is now, it made the initial dislike feel petty, and their fling feel nonsensical, not to mention the transition to lasting love didn’t feel convincing. It’s a shame, because Callum is in some ways a great idea, a British guy in Hawaii running a rival food truck. But I just feel like their dynamic wasn’t explored to its full potential. 

While this wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, I did enjoy it for the positives, even if I suspect they weren’t meant to be the main focus. I do feel that if you love foodie romance and aren’t so particular about the tropes included, you might enjoy it a bit more than I did.

Author Bio

Sarah Smith is a copywriter-turned-author who wants to make the world a lovelier place, one kissing story at a time. Her love of romance began when she was eight and she discovered her auntie’s stash of romance novels. She’s been hooked ever since. When she’s not writing, you can find her hiking, eating chocolate, and perfecting her lumpia recipe. She lives in Bend, Oregon, with her husband and adorable cat Salem. 

Sarah is represented by Sarah  Younger at the Nancy Yost Literary Agency.

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Review of “Master of One” by Jaida Jones and Dani Bennett

Jones, Jaida, & Danielle Bennett. Master of One. New York: HarperTeen, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0062941442 | $18.99 USD | 544 pages | YA Fantasy

Blurb

Sinister sorcery. Gallows humor. A queer romance so glorious it could be right out of fae legend itself. Master of One is a fantasy unlike any other.

Rags is a thief—an excellent one. He’s stolen into noble’s coffers, picked soldier’s pockets, and even liberated a ring or two off the fingers of passersby. Until he’s caught by the Queensguard and forced to find an ancient fae relic for a sadistic royal sorcerer.

But Rags could never have guessed this “relic” would actually be a fae himself—a distractingly handsome, annoyingly perfect, ancient fae prince called Shining Talon. Good thing Rags can think on his toes, because things just get stranger from there…

With the heist and intrigue of Six of Crows and the dark fairy tale feel of The Cruel Prince, this young adult fantasy debut will have readers rooting for a pair of reluctant heroes as they take on a world-ending fae prophecy, a malicious royal plot, and, most dangerously of all, their feelings for each other.

Review

4 stars

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

Master of One drew my attention due to the premise, with its mention of fae, a queer romance, and comparisons to other popular YA series (although admittedly I haven’t read the two in question name-dropped in the blurb). And while there are some flaws, it’s still fairly enjoyable.

I really liked the characters, especially skilled thief Rags and Fae Prince Talon. I loved the magnetic chemistry between these two characters. And Rags himself is really just effortlessly snarky and charming, so I was pleased he was the one who got the most page time, and almost upset when the perspective shifted to someone else, even though I wasn’t outright irritated by anyone. 

The pacing is a bit slow, but I like that it allows world building and over-arching plot aspects to be set into place, building on familiar concepts like conflict between races to develop intriguing world politics. 

It has a lot of cool aspects, like heists (I love a good heist!), Royal intrigue, and fae magic. If you love YA fantasy, I definitely recommend this one. 

Author Bio

Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett are married coauthors. Master of One is their young adult debut. They are the authors of the Volstovic Cycle. Find them at www.jonesandbennett.com.

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Review of “Call Me Maybe” by Cara Bastone

Bastone, Cara. Call Me Maybe. Narrated by Luci Christian and Neil Hellegers, Audible, 2020.

ASIN: B08CMB2WMV | $29.95 USD |5 hours 55 minutes | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

True love is on the line in this charming, laugh-out-loud rom-com—created specifically for the audio format!

Paint your toes. Pick up the wrong coffee and bagel order. Drive from Brooklyn to Jersey in traffic so slow you want to tear your hair out. It’s amazing all the useless things I can accomplish while on hold for three hours with customer service. Three hours when I should be getting the Date-in-a-Box website ready to launch at the big business expo in a few days. Except my shiny new website is glitching, and my inner rage-monster is ready to scorch some earth… when he finally picks up. Not the robot voice I expected but a real live human named Cal. He’s surprisingly helpful and really knows his stuff, even if he’s a little awkward…. in an adorable way.

And suddenly I’m flirting with him? And I think he’s flirting back.
And suddenly it’s been hours, and we’re still on the phone talking and ordering each other takeout while he trouble shoots my website.
And suddenly we’re exchanging numbers and sending texts and DMs every day, leaving voice mails (who even does that anymore?!).
And suddenly I’m wondering if it’s possible for two people fall in love at first talk.

Because I’m falling… hard.

***

Vera Hoffman has just days to make sure her website for her new Date-in-a-Box business launches. When the darn thing glitches, she calls her IT company and connects with Cal Kantola. An intense week of phone calls, DMs, voice messages, and texts ensue, and in between troubleshooting, these two start to develop feelings. But will their systems be compatible when they actually meet face-to-face?

Review

5 stars

Audiobooks have never appealed to me for personal reasons, one being my short attention span while listening to something vs. reading it, and none of the tactics people suggested worked with my daily routine. And it just seemed like an extra expense for the most part. But I got a free trial for Audible Plus, and once I finally figured out a consumption tactic that worked for me while listening to some familiar titles, I decided to try Call Me Maybe, due to hearing some early rave reviews. 

First off, I have to praise the production quality. I love how immersive it feels, not only with the two narrators capturing the voices of the characters perfectly, but the sound effects. It feels cliche, but it is almost like a movie. From what I’ve heard about the Audible Originals and even some other audiobooks from certain series published to Audible, this appears to be a common thing, but I’m glad to confirm that they’re right. 

As a result, Cal and Vera felt real to me on a level beyond many fictional characters, because of the new format. It’s really like listening to friends tell me about their lives, or listening in on their conversations with each other. 

Cal is such an adorkable hero, so unaware of his own charms, and while he does keep a secret about his identity, I could understand his reasoning. Vera is such a sunny, optimistic heroine, a tryer of many things who has finally found her niche in Date-in-a-Box. They were so cute in their interactions, and I loved the way they built each other up in their most vulnerable moments.

While I don’t know if I’ll keep Audible beyond the free month due to financial reasons, I am hoping to review more audiobooks now and then, particularly if they are as good as this one is. And I strongly recommend trying this one, especially if you’re a fan of contemporary romance and/or good quality audio dramas. 

Author Bio

Hi, I’m Cara!
I’m a full time writer living and writing in Brooklyn with my husband, son, and an almost-goldendoodle. My goal with my work is to find the swoon in ordinary love stories.

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

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Review of “A Very Highland Holiday” by Jennifer Ashley, Tanya Anne Crosby, Kathryn Le Veque, Kerrigan Byrne, Darcy Burke, and Eliza Knight

Ashley, Jennifer, et. al. A Very Highland Holiday. La  Verne, CA: Dragonblade Publishing, 2020.

ISBN-13: 979-8693491304 | $3.99 USD | 528 pages | Historical Romance

 Blurb

Ashley… Crosby… Le Veque… Knight… Burke… Byrne…

It’s an enchanting holiday season in the Highlands with some of your favorite Historical Romance authors!

It’s the holiday season of 1746 and the Highlands are snowy. In the village of Calvine, north of Tay Forest along a road that leads straight into Inverness, the only tavern in town is packed to the rafters with travelers.

Eight months after the disastrous defeat at Culloden, the people haven’t recovered, nor has the land, and it’s a bad winter. But inside the tavern known as Balthazar’s Inn, the magic that is the holiday season is about to happen.

A blustery innkeeper, his sensitive daughter, and a cast of unique characters passing through the careworn tavern will bring you six captivating stories of reflection, joy, and enthrallment that is the very spirit of the holidays.

Welcome to an enchanting limited-edition collection you won’t soon forget!

The Earl in Winter by Kathryn Le Veque – When James de Lohr heads into the wilds of Scotland to discover what happened to his brother at the Battle of Culloden, his stay at Bathazar’s Tavern has an unexpected twist. On a night when angels walk the earth, James comes face to face with his very own guardian angel.

Fiona and the Three Wise Highlanders by Jennifer Ashley – Fiona MacDonald is overjoyed to see Stuart Cameron alive and well after his imprisonment by the English, but her worries are not over. Stuart Cameron owes his safety to a pair of smugglers who have come to collect on their debt, and Stuart will need her help to win himself free.

One Knight’s Stand by Tanya Anne Crosby – Bound for a marriage she hopes will save her cousin from the gibbet, Lady Elizabeth Louise Wolfe finds herself en route to Scotland to marry the younger son of a known traitor to the Crown. Fate intervenes when, on the way, she checks into an inn and registers as the “MacKinnon’s bride.” Presumed dead at Culloden, Callum MacKinnon, stops by the inn as well, intending to clean up before his return as the prodigal son. Imagine his surprise to discover his “bride to be” has already procured a room. And more—the feisty sassenach everything he never realized he desired.

The Earl of Christmas Past by Kerrigan Bryne – A solstice blizzard drives Victorian photographer, Vanessa Latimer, to a crowded Highland Inn where the only available room is haunted by the ghost of a fallen warrior unwilling to give up his side of the bed.

The Legend of a Rogue by Darcy Burke – When Tavish Crawford learns treasure hunter Elspeth Marshall is on the trail of his family’s missing legacy, he swears to prevent her at any cost. As nefarious forces threaten them both, he realizes he must not only protect the mystical sword, but the woman who has stolen his heart.

The Highlander Who Stole Christmas by Eliza Knight – For eight months, Thane Shaw has patiently waited to enact his revenge against the Campbells, and finally he can’t resist the opportunity that’s presented itself: stealing their most precious treasure for his own—Lady Sarah.

From our families to yours, we wish you the very best of the holiday season!

Review 

A Very Highland Holiday is a somewhat different historical holiday anthology. Instead of focusing on Christmas, it focuses on the Scottish holiday of Hogmanay, a celebration of the New Year, and it also chooses as its focus the aftermath of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion (think Outlander), so it’s hardly another cozy, lighthearted read, at least not all the way through. But the authors involved clearly have a lot of enthusiasm for the history, as well as the varied possibilities of their setting, given some of the directions they’ve chosen to go. And even in the midst of the darkness, there is room for light and love. 

“The Earl in Winter” by Kathryn Le Veque

2 stars

I really didn’t care for this one. I liked the historical context of the story, although I just didn’t really care for the characters.

“The Earl of Christmas Past” by Kerrigan Byrne

4 stars

Considering all the baggage I have with Byrne, which came to a head with her latest novel, I was uncertain in my approach to this one…until I heard what it was about. And it’s a lot more fun than a lot of Byrne’s more recent fare (and that’s saying something), while still having her signature broody hero (this one thankfully isn’t a jerk) and strong heroine. I also love the tie-in with the prior story that the hero is the brother to Le Veque’s hero, and we get to explore whether an HEA can happen if one of the leads is a ghost. It’s definitely been done before, but I love that Byrne give it her own flair. 

“Fiona and the Three Wise Highlanders” by Jennifer Ashley

3 stars 

I liked this one. I admit I stopped keeping track of the Mackenzies and McBrides, so the focus on the ancestors did leave me feeling a bit out of my depth. However, I like the connection established between  the Victorian and Jacobite Mackenzies, and seeing Ian as a father at the beginning was so cute. I also really liked how it felt atmospheric without being bogged down by the minute details. 

“One Knight’s Stand” by Tanya Anne Crosby

3 stars 

This one was pretty good. I love how this one in particular captures the political atmosphere, while also playing into the more magical elements of the inn. I didn’t love the romance in this one, but it’s still a solid story. 

“The Legend of a Rogue” by Darcy Burke

4 stars 

I loved the vibes of this one, as it not only was playing with the slightly magical vibes emanating through the stories in the collection with the shared inn setting, but also Burke’s own mystical elements with the magic sword  from a prior series I’m now desperate to read. Elspeth and Tavish are also just wonderful characters. 

“The Highlander Who Stole Christmas” by Eliza Knight

4 stars 

I don’t love revenge plots, but I was charmed by this one, especially since this one cut out a lot of the drama and angst I don’t like and made it so the primary focus was on Thane’s change of perspective as he fell for Sarah. 

***

While some of the stories are better than others, this is a solid collection that I really enjoyed, providing a lot of historical and cultural context about a Scottish holiday I didn’t know a ton about before, along with swoonworthy romance. If you love historical romance, especially Highlanders, you’ll enjoy this one. 

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Review of “Frozen 2: Dangerous Secrets: The Story of Iduna and Agnarr” by Mari Mancusi

Mancusi, Mari. Frozen 2: Dangerous Secrets: The Story of Iduna and Agnarr. Los Angeles: Disney Press, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1368063616 | $17.99 USD | 352 pages | YA Fantasy

Blurb

Sixteen-year-old Iduna harbors a dark secret. On the surface, she is an Arendellian village girl, an aspiring inventor, and the best friend of Prince Agnarr, but she is also secretly Northuldra.

Ever since the day the forest fell, Arendellians have despised and distrusted Northuldra with a vengeance. No matter that the Northuldra-along with some of Arendelle’s own-have been trapped in the Enchanted Forest behind an impenetrable wall of mist since the day of the battle.

Iduna doesn’t know why the mist refuses to part, or why it descended to begin with. The only clear thing is that she must keep her identity from everyone, even Agnarr. Her life depends on it.

Fortunately for her, Agnarr doesn’t know that Iduna is the Northuldra girl he saw seemingly flying on a gust of wind all those years ago, the day of the celebration turned disaster. The day Agnarr lost his father, the king. The day Agnarr himself almost died.

What Agnarr does know is that Iduna is a true ally in the face of his royal responsibilities and the expectations of an overbearing council and a well-meaning regent who will rule in Agnarr’s place until he turns twenty-one and assumes the Arendellian throne.

As Iduna and Agnarr grow ever closer, however, friendship is no longer enough. If only falling for each other didn’t mean risking their futures: Iduna’s as a hidden-in-plain-sight citizen of Arendelle, and Agnarr’s as imminent king.

But for a chance at true love, the risk might be worth taking

Review

4 stars

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

I really enjoyed Frozen 2 and enjoyed how it developed on the story of the first movie, especially in terms of making the parents a bit more sympathetic. And Frozen 2: Dangerous Secrets: The Story of Iduna and Agnarr expands on that further, delivering on Iduna and Agnarr’s love story, as the title promises. 

I love seeing aspects of Elsa and Anna that Iduna and Agnarr passed down in both of them. Iduna is compassionate, brave, and strong, while also dealing with the secret of her heritage in the aftermath of what happened between Arendelle and the Northuldra. I was chilled every time Agnarr tried to ingrain himself with “Conceal, don’t feel” in regards to his own emotions, considering the results in Elsa’s case. 

And in spite of the high stakes, I love the way Iduna and Agnarr are able to confront obstacles to be together, which helps to define the way they approached things as a team over the course of their marriage, even if some of their choices aren’t right.

It is a somewhat predictable story, but it fits very well within both the Frozen and wider Disney brands. If you loved the movies, you’ll enjoy this too.

Author Bio

Mari Mancusi grew up where the north wind meets the sea (otherwise known as Massachusetts), but has since made her home in the great state of Texas, mostly due to her love of summer. (And tacos.) A former Emmy Award winning TV news producer, today she is the author of more than two-dozen books for kids, teens, and adults, mostly of the sci-fi/fantasy variety. In addition to writing, Mari loves traveling, video games, and cosplaying. She is also Mom to an eight year old Frozen superfan who, when recently asked by her teacher to describe her hero answered: “My Mom!” (Okay, fine, she said Kristin Bell.)

You can find Mari online at www.marimancusi.com. She knows several Samanthas.

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Review of “A Rumored Fortune” by Joanna Davidson Politano

Politano, Joanna Davidson. A Rumored Fortune. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1493414024 | $15.99 USD | 416 pages | Victorian Romance/Romantic Suspense/Christian Fiction

Blurb

Tressa Harlowe’s father did not trust banks, but neither did he trust his greedy extended family. He kept his vast fortune hidden somewhere on his estate in the south of England and died suddenly, without telling anyone where he had concealed it. Tressa and her ailing mother are left with a mansion and an immense vineyard and no money to run it. It doesn’t take long for a bevy of opportunists to flock to the estate under the guise of offering condolences. Tressa knows what they’re really up to. She’ll have to work with the rough and rusticated vineyard manager to keep the laborers content without pay and discover the key to finding her father’s fortune–before someone else finds it first.

Award-winning author Joanna Davidson Politano welcomes readers to Trevelyan Castle, home of the poorest heiress in Victorian England, for a treasure hunt they’ll not soon forget.

Review

5 stars 

A Rumored Fortune is the third book by Joanna Davidson Politano I’ve picked up, and I’ve become accustomed to her evocative writing style. Once again, she kept me guessing with a compelling suspense plot, while also slowly engaging me with a delightful slowly building romance. 

The world Politano has created is so intricate, with the complex family relationships and class warfare at the center of the story. And the way symbolism is used in the story in the vineyard setting is masterful. 

Tressa and Donegan are both engaging characters with great character arcs. I admired Tressa’s loyalty and intelligence, while also appreciating how she grows out of her prejudices. And Donegan is such a kind hero, joining the fast-growing list of my favorites, but he doesn’t lack nuance, as he has his own secrets. 

The mystery element is well written, perhaps the most engaging of Politano’s I’ve read so far. At least, it’s the most rewarding. 

This is a wonderful historical romance, rich with mystery, sweetness, and a bit of poetic beauty. If you’re looking for a historical romantic suspense and don’t mind light “faith” aspects, I think you’ll enjoy this one. 

Author Bio

Joanna Davidson Politano freelances for a small nonfiction publisher but spends much of her time spinning tales that capture the colorful, exquisite details in ordinary lives. Her manuscript for Lady Jayne Disappears was a finalist for several contests, including the 2016 Genesis Award from ACFW, and won the OCW Cascade Award and the Maggie Award for Excellence. She is always on the hunt for random acts of kindness, people willing to share their deepest secrets with a stranger, and hidden stashes of sweets. She lives with her husband and their two babies in a house in the woods near Lake Michigan and shares stories that move her at www.jdpstories.com.

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Review of “Perfectly Impossibble” by Elizabeth Topp

Topp, Elizabeth. Perfectly Impossible. New York: Little A, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1542018678 | $24.95 USD | 314 pages | Women’s Fiction

Blurb

In this witty debut novel, Elizabeth Topp crafts a story that ventures behind the fanciful facade of Park Avenue and into the life of one lovable type A assistant.

Anna’s job is simple: prevent the unexpected from happening and do everything better than perfectly. An artist at heart, Anna works a day job as a private assistant for Bambi Von Bizmark, a megarich Upper East Side matriarch who’s about to be honored at the illustrious Opera Ball.

Caught between the staid world of great wealth and her unconventional life as an artist, Anna struggles with her true calling. If she’s supposed to be a painter, why is she so much more successful as a personal assistant? When her boyfriend lands a fancy new job, it throws their future as a couple into doubt and intensifies Anna’s identity crisis. All she has to do is ensure everything runs smoothly and hold herself together until the Opera Ball is over. How hard could that be?

Featuring a vibrant array of characters from the powerful to the proletarian, Perfectly Impossible offers a glimpse into a world you’ll never want to leave.

Review

2.5 stars

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

Perfectly Impossible is a light, fast-paced contemporary, a perfect escape during these troubling times. However, in its lightness and opulence, there isn’t room for a ton of depth in the midst of it all. I mean, some books can be just fun, but the result of this one left me feeling very conflicted. 

While the life of a personal assistant to the rich and famous is not easy, I still struggled to invest much in Anna’s life as an assistant, just as much as I did in the more opulent lives of the other characters.

At times, it does feel like a satire, meant to comment on the lives of the rich and famous, but I feel like that aspect was lost in translation in this respect, as I’ve read other satirical works on class and didn’t find them so intensely bogged down with so much nothing as this one did. Sometimes, I even questioned what the point was, with it coming out in the midst of such economic depression in the real world, and who the author expected would resonate with it.

The writing style is breezy and engaging, so I at least did not feel any urge to DNF at any point, in fact finishing fairly quickly. It’s just a shame that the message wasn’t that well conveyed.

That said, the reviews for this one seem mixed, with some seeming to “get” it more easily. If the concept at all appeals to you, I’d give it a chance, in the hopes of works better for you. 

Author Bio

Elizabeth Topp penned her first short story in the second grade and has been writing ever since. A graduate of the Dalton School, Harvard College, and the Columbia School of the Arts, Topp coauthored her first book, Vaginas: An Owner’s Manual, with her gynecologist mother while she worked as a private assistant, a job she still holds. Topp lives in the same Manhattan apartment from her childhood with her partner, Matthew; daughter, Anna; and their cat, Stripes. Perfectly Impossible is her debut novel.

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Review of “The Haunting of Beatrix Greene” by Rachel Hawkins, Ash Parsons, and Vicki Alvear Shecter

Hawkins, Rachel, et. al. The Haunting of Beatrix Greene. [Place of publication not identified]: Serial Box, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1682108130 | $9.99 USD | 198 pages | Victorian Romance/Gothic Romance

Blurb

Beatrix Greene has made a name for herself in Victorian England as a reputable spiritual medium, but she’s a fraud: even she knows ghosts aren’t real. But when she’s offered a lucrative job by James Walker—a scientist notorious for discrediting pretenders like her—Beatrix takes the risk of a lifetime. If her séance at the infamously haunted Ashbury Manor fools him, she will finally have true financial freedom. If she fails, her secret will become her public shame.

But James has his own dark secrets, and he believes only a true medium can put them to rest. When Beatrix’s séance awakens her real gift—and with it, a vengeful spirit—James finds that the answers he seeks are more dangerous than he could have imagined. Together, with a group of supernatural sleuths, Beatrix and James race to settle the ghost’s unrest before it strikes— or else they might not make it out of the haunted manor alive.

New York Times bestselling author Rachel Hawkins, along with Ash Parsons and Vicky Alvear Shecter, weaves darkness, death, and a hint of desire into this suspenseful mystery for fans of Sherlock Holmes and Crimson Peak.   

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 was drawn to request The Haunting of Beatrix Greene due to Rachel Hawkins being listed as one of the contributors, an author I am familiar with from Twitter, although I have yet to read one of her books. I was not aware until I did some research that this book was not only a serial, but would be primarily featured, at least initially on an app called “Serial Box,” which sounds like the type I’ve avoided due to my issues with episodic stories, with exception of entire collections. However, even with that in mind, I still felt this was a fun story, although I don’t know if I’d have consumed it in its primary format.

While the story is written by three authors, and not in sequence, I like that the sections flow well into each other, so it can work whether you read each episode on its own or binge them all at all. If I had not been told at the beginning of each episode who the author was, I would not have know different people wrote different parts. 

I liked the way the story puts a twist on the fake medium concept by having something mysterious happen when Beatrix is hired. There’s also a lovely sweet romance between Beatrix and James as events unfold.

It’s rather too short to go into any real depth, however, for the projected format, it is well suited. Whether this is worth trying is down to your interest in investing money in an app (although they offer the first episode free and offer both individual episode and season pass options; price indicated above is for the season pass). However, there appears to also be plans for a traditional ebook release early next year. 

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Review of “Legendborn” by Tracy Deonn

Deonn, Tracy. Legendborn. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1534441606 | $18.99 USD | 501 pages | YA Fantasy

Blurb

Filled with mystery and an intriguingly rich magic system, Tracy Deonn’s YA contemporary fantasy Legendborn offers the dark allure of City of Bones with a modern-day twist on a classic legend and a lot of Southern Black Girl Magic.

After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.

A flying demon feeding on human energies.

A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.

And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.

The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.

She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.

Review

5 stars 

Legendborn sounded exciting when I first heard about it: an Arthurian retelling with Southern Black Girl Magic?! Yes, please! And with its combination of the the fantastical with real life Black issues and their legacy throughout history, Tracy Deonn has combined many seemingly disparate elements into a compelling story.

The world building and magic, and how it all seamlessly comes together with the real life UNC-Chapel Hill campus is beautiful. From the exploration of the legacy of slavery in its establishment to the way its real life secret societies make for a perfect setting for a a magical one, it all feels so grounded and believable. And the magic system of rootcraft being based on African American spiritual traditions was beautiful. I felt I learned something deeper about the Black experience throughout history that hadn’t been taught in traditional history books or in school, at least not to this extent. 

Bree is a wonderful heroine, and I like how her journey is rooted in dealing with the trauma of losing her mother, as well as the inherited trauma of centuries of slavery and racism, and the systemic racism Black people are still dealing with today. She’s such a well-rounded heroine, a badass who can be vulnerable without being a cliche. 

The supporting cast is also so unapologetically diverse, with other characters of color and LGBTQ+ characters and couples. And while there is a love triangle, and both of the boys are actually valid choices! 

This is a great book from a promising new author, innovating the YA fantasy genre. If you love YA fantasy, and are interested in an Arthurian retelling that also tackles Black issues, I think you’ll enjoy this one. 

Author Bio

Tracy Deonn is a writer and 2nd gen fangirl. She grew up in North Carolina, where she devoured fantasy books and Southern food in equal measure. After earning two degrees from UNC-CH, Tracy worked in live theater, video games, and K-12 education. When she’s not writing, Tracy panels at SFF conventions, reads fanfic, arranges doggy playdates, and keeps an eye out for ginger-flavored everything.

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Review of “Holiday Home Run” by Priscilla Oliveras

Oliveras, Priscilla. Holiday Home Run. 2018. New York: Zebra, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1420152920 | $2.99 USD | 94 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

Event planner Julia Fernández is in Chicago for an internship that she hopes to turn into a full-time job. She’s ready to live on her own, out from under her familia’s expectations that she take over their catering business in Puerto Rico and away from their year-round baseball fever thanks to her three ball-playing brothers. Ex-MLB pitcher Ben Thomas knows what it’s like to have different dreams than your family intends for you, but since his injury-caused early retirement, he’s been struggling to find the sense of family baseball once brought him. When he volunteers as the emcee for Julia’s big holiday fundraiser for a local youth center, he finally begins to find a sense of purpose working with the kids and alongside Julia.

She’s focused on organizing the best holiday event the youth center has ever seen, not on romance. But Ben…he’s got a game plan for them that includes both.

Holiday Home Run was previously released as part of the holiday anthology A SEASON TO CELEBRATE.

Review

4 stars

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

Holiday Home Run was previously published in the anthology A Season to Celebrate, and is now being reprinted on its own in ebook. It’s a delightful companion novella to Priscilla Oliveras’ Matched to Perfection series, following a Fernandez cousin Julia as she finds her own HEA, though it can be read as a stand-alone. 

However, much like the main books in the series, and Oliveras’ work in general, there’s a distinct Latinx flavor and familia remains central, with Julia having close relationships with her mother and cousins, who appear in supporting roles. However, there’s also the interplay between their expectations for her vs. what she wants, and that was conveyed beautifully.

Ben is a great hero, and I liked seeing him working to find a new family and purpose after finding himself retired from baseball due to injury, and seeing something in Julia, even though she is resistant to kobo at first. 

This is a charming story, and a great addition to a fabulous series. I also think it would be a great introduction to Oliveras’ work to those who love sweet, culturally rich contemporary romance.

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 “The Gentleman and the Thief” (Proper Romance Victorian #2) by Sarah M. Eden

Eden, Sarah M. Eden. The Gentleman and the Thief. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1629727905 | $15.99 USD | 368 pages | Victorian Romance

Blurb

A gentleman scribes penny dreadful novels by night and falls in love with a woman who is a music teacher by day—and a thief at night.

LONDON 1865

From the moment Hollis Darby meets Ana Newport, he’s smitten. Even though he’s from a wealthy, established family and she isn’t, he wishes he could have a life with her by his side. But Hollis has a secret: the deep coffers that have kept his family afloat for generations are bare, so he supports himself by writing penny dreadfuls under a pseudonym. If not for the income from his novels, he would be broke.

Ana Newport also has a secret. Though she once had a place in society thanks to her father’s successful business, bankruptcy and scandal reduced his fortune to nothing more than a crumbling town house. So Ana teaches music during the day, and at night she assumes the identity of the “Phantom Fox.” She breaks into the homes of the wealthy to reclaim trinkets and treasures she feels were unjustly stolen from her family when they were struggling.

When Hollis’s brother needs to hire a music tutor for his daughter, Hollis recommends Ana, giving him a chance to spend time with her. Ana needs the income and is eager for the opportunity to get to know the enigmatic gentleman. What neither of them expects is how difficult it will be to keep their respective secrets from each other.

When a spree of robberies rocks the city, Ana and Hollis join forces to solve the crimes, discovering that working together deepens the affection between them. After all, who better to save the day than a gentleman and a thief?

In the series

#1 The Lady and the Highwayman

Review 

3 stars

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

I really enjoyed the previous book in the series, so I was excited to hear about The Gentleman and the Thief, continuing the adventures of the Dread Penny Society writers. However, while it is second in the series, it works ok a stand-alone, and this publisher has been super weird about their series marketing up to this point too (a non-related Victorian Proper Romance book by Eden is featured on the “series” page on Amazon), so I wouldn’t worry too much if you missed the first, although you do get more background information about the Dread Penny Society. 

While plots that hinge around characters keeping secrets from one another aren’t my favorite, I like the way it worked here, with Hollis being a gentleman and secret penny dreadful writer and Ana a music teacher who is also a thief at night. A bit of the “spark” was lacking in the dynamic, so it did feel a bit lacking in comparison to its predecessor, but I still more or less enjoyed them as characters working out the mystery. 

I also found the interstitial stories a bit more of a chore to get through this time around than in the first, where they complemented the story perfectly. There were moments when there are hints at the parallels, especially in the story that shares its name with the title of the book, but I wasn’t as enchanted with them as with the previous ones. 

While this one is not as good as the first, I still enjoyed spending time in the Victorian world of Penny Dreadful writing again, and hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of them. If you love historical romance set in the Victorian era, especially involving the world of Gothic fiction, I think you‘ll enjoy this one. 

Author Bio

Sarah M. Eden is a USA Today best-selling author of witty and charming historical romances, including 2019’s Foreword Reviews INDIE Awards Gold Winner for Romance, The Lady and the Highwayman, and 2020 Holt Medallion finalist, Healing Hearts. She is a two-time “Best of State” Gold Medal winner for fiction and a three-time Whitney Award winner. Combining her obsession with history and her affinity for tender love stories, Sarah loves crafting deep characters and heartfelt romances set against rich historical backdrops. She holds a bachelor’s degree in research and happily spends hours perusing the reference shelves of her local library. 

Sarah is represented by Pam Pho at D4EO Literary Agency.​

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Review of “Black Witch Magic” (Paranormal Hunters #1) by Mila Nicks

Nicks, Mila. Black Witch Magic. [Place of publication not identified]: Mila Nicks, 2020.

ASIN: B08FYXL5D1 | $3.99 USD | Paranormal Romance

Blurb

Librarian by day, cursed witch by night:

Selene Blackstone spends her days camped out in library corners with her nose glued to books. In a town like Brimrock, where she’s an outcast, she prefers her book friends to her real-life enemies. They’re a lot less judgmental. The rest of town believes she descends from a family of witches—including her evil witch grandma, Luna. In this case, the truth is stranger than fiction. She is a witch, and she’s cursed for all of eternity. Good thing her to-be-read list is pretty long…

Prickly Paranormal Investigator Aiden O’Hare speaks two languages: sarcasm and more sarcasm. He travels the country—and sometimes even the world—investigating strange phenomena with his best friend, Eddie. Their investigations bring them to a cozy New England town called Brimrock, home to fabled evil witch Luna Blackstone. Armed with his dry wit, his bibliophilic love for books, and far too much free time, he’s determined to find out just what happened to Luna…

When Aiden meets Selene, he decides he must get to know her. When Selene learns Aiden is in town investigating her grandma, she knows she must stop him. He’s out to expose the truth. She’s out to keep it a secret. Neither expects to fall under each other’s spell, but sometimes love is supernatural. 

Review 

4 stars

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

Black Witch Magic is another charming interracial romance from Mila Nicks, showing her aptitude for slipping between subgenres and styles with ease.

The characters are quirky and fun, and I love their interactions. I liked Aiden and Selene’s dynamic as paranormal investigator/skeptic and witch, respectively. There’s awkwardness, and there were challenges caused by who Selene is, but I liked how their relationship unfolded in the wake of all of these.

I also liked that both had such solid friendships, Aiden with Eddie, who is a more firm believer in the paranormal, and Selene with fellow witch Noelle.

There are some cliche moments, but I found them almost charming in light of the style being a more lighthearted paranormal romance. 

This is a wonderfully original, delightful book with a delightful mix of genres. And while it releases in time for Halloween/Samhain and presents that theme, it’s set around Christmas and Yule, making it the perfect read for the holidays, whichever you observe. 

Author Bio 

Mila Nicks is an emerging romance author on a mission to pen heartfelt love stories featuring women of color. 

From the time she was a small girl with crayons and an overactive imagination, she’s had a passion for storytelling. In addition to receiving her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, she is presently pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing. She has also served her country in the United States Air Force.

When she isn’t penning diverse love stories, you can find this imaginative writer traveling across the globe, sampling new cuisines, or spending quality time with her spunky pet Chihuahua, Zayden. 

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Review of “A Duke for Miss Townsbridge” (The Townsbridges #4) by Sophie Barnes

Barnes, Sophie. A Duke for Miss Townsbridge. [Place of publication not identified]: Sophie Barnes, 2020.

ASIN: B08FGHZM17 | $2.99 USD | 130 pages | Regency Romance|

Blurb

She threatens to conquer his heart…

When Matthew Donovan, Duke of Brunswick, proposes to Sarah Townsbridge, she’s shocked. After all, she’s never met him before. One thing is clear though – he obviously needs help. So after turning him down, she decides to get to know him better, and finds out she’s right. But fixing a broken man is not the same as adopting a puppy. Least of all when the man in question has no desire to be saved.

Matthew has his mind set on Sarah. Kind and energetic, she’ll make an excellent mother. Best of all, her reclusiveness is sure to make her accept the sort of marriage he has in mind – one where they live apart. The only problem is, to convince her, they must spend time together. And the more they do, the more he risks falling prey to the one emotion he knows he must avoid at all cost: love.

In the series

#1 When Love Leads to Scandal 

#2 Lady Abigail’s Perfect Romance

#3 Falling for Mr. Townsbridge

Review

3 stars

I received an ARC from the author as part of a blog tour in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own. 

A Duke for Miss Townsbridge is a slight improvement on the previous book, particularly as far as the relationship dynamic is concerned. While I still did not love this, it has more to do with it leaning in too heavily into certain unappealing tropes. 

I was drawn to Sarah in the previous book, so I was excited to read her story. I liked the light  exploration of her character, being almost on the shelf, and also dealing with the grief of a lost sister. 

However, I found the Duke rather unlikable. Anyone who asserts his title in order to get his own way, and is shocked to be rejected deserves a slice of humble pie. But instead Sarah wants to fix him? She does have more agency in this dynamic than the heroine of the previous one did, but I didn’t like the way it flirted with these toxic ideas, especially without really fleshing out why he’s so emotionally stunted (something that isn’t possible in a novella). And if she can be well adjusted in spite of the loss of a sister, then there’s little excuse for him while everything about him remains so surface level.

I feel this story would have benefited from being a bit longer, at least to give more nuance to the Duke’s backstory. It could also be a case of my just having had it with the broody hero who doesn’t have a realistic evolution on the way to his HEA. But if that trope appeals to you, then you’ll probably enjoy this more than I did. 

Author Bio

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

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

Contact:

Website: http://www.sophiebarnes.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BarnesSophie

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

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Review of “Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop” by Roselle Lim

Lim, Roselle. Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop. New York: Berkley, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1984803276 | $16.00 USD | 305 pages | Women’s Fiction/Magical Realism

Blurb

Become enamored with the splendor of Paris in this heartwarming and delightful story about writing one’s own destiny and finding love along the way.

Vanessa Yu never wanted to see people’s fortunes—or misfortunes—in tea leaves.

Ever since she can remember, Vanessa Yu has been able to see people’s fortunes at the bottom of their teacups. To avoid blurting out their fortunes, she converts to coffee, but somehow fortunes escape and find a way to complicate her life and the ones of those around her. To add to this plight, her romance life is so nonexistent that her parents enlist the services of a matchmaking expert from Shanghai.

The day before her matchmaking appointment, Vanessa accidentally sees her own fate: death by traffic accident. She decides that she can’t truly live until she can find a way to get rid of her uncanny abilities. When her eccentric aunt, Evelyn, shows up with a tempting offer to whisk her away, Vanessa says au revoir to America and bonjour to Paris. While working at Evelyn’s tea stall at a Parisian antique market, Vanessa performs some matchmaking of her own, attempting to help reconnect her aunt with a lost love. As she learns more about herself and the root of her gifts, she realizes one thing to be true: knowing one’s destiny isn’t a curse, but being unable to change it is. 

Review

3 stars

Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop is another magical story with focus on family and food, with a bit of romance. Once again, while the approach is slightly different lacking the fun recipes of Lim’s first book, there’s sumptuous descriptions of all the food that had my mouth watering.

I also enjoyed the family dynamics of this large family, with the aunts meddling and the lovely m/m romance between the two gay uncles, among other elements. I liked Vanessa’s complex relationship with her Aunt Evelyn and how that was explored over the course of the story. 

I also liked how the cultural elements melded well with the magical, another theme in common with its predecessor. Vanessa’s ability to read tea leaves, and the mishaps that occur from this is a lot of fun to read. 

However, there was still something missing from this one, and I think it’s in part a result of the lifestyle of the characters feeling a bit too far removed from something I can understand. The mystical elements are one thing, but the characters’ lifestyles felt a bit too sumptuous to feel real. 

I also felt the romance, while not a main focus, was underwhelming. I liked Marco as a love interest for Vanessa, but he gets sidelined after a while, when I feel like there could have been more development in that aspect.

After reading two books from Roselle Lim, it seems she’s one of those authors with book premises that appeal to me, but the execution seems lacking in some way. I do still have hope that her next book will work better for me, although it’s possible that it is an unfortunate mismatch. As such, I feel like if you are interested in a culturally rich women’s fiction story with magical elements, I think you should give it a try. 

Author Bio

Roselle Lim was born in the Philippines and immigrated to Canada as a child. She lived in north Scarborough in a diverse, Asian neighbourhood.

She found her love of writing by listening to her lola (paternal grandmother’s) stories about Filipino folktales. Growing up in a household where Chinese superstition mingled with Filipino Catholicism, she devoured books about mythology, which shaped the fantasies in her novels.

An artist by nature, she considers writing as “painting with words.”

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Review of “Thankfully in Love” by Anna J. Stewart, Kayla Perrin, Melinda Curtis, and Cari Lynn Webb

Stewart, Anna J., et. al.  Thankfully in Love: A Thanksgiving Anthology. [Place of publication not identified]: Caezik Romance, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1647100209 | $16.99 USD | 283 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

SA Today bestselling romance authors come together for Thanksgiving to tell the stories of four women who have not had the best experiences with the men they have dated in their pasts. With the help of family and loved ones this holiday season, can they learn to open their hearts one more time? If they can dare to make the leap, they could find themselves finally, thankfully in love…

Review

While Christmas stories abound and are a staple in pretty much every genre in some form or another, Thanksgiving stories are much less common. However, that just makes the announcement of a collection like this a welcome one. And despite not being familiar with any of the authors, I was curious to see what new perspectives they could bring to the table, especially since I learned a couple of the authors were Canadian, so it wasn’t exclusively focused on the American observance. 

“No Place Like Home” by Anna J. Stewart

3 stars

I’d have liked to see this one fleshed out more in a longer story. There are some good ideas here, from the sweet romance to the thread of suspense that I feel could have benefited from being explored more deeply. 

“Second Chances” by Kayla Perrin

5 stars

This one was so wonderful. I love friends with a romantic spark, parted for years, and later given a second chance at it. It was sweet seeing Miranda open her heart to Taz again, especially when she was hurting after a heartbreak. 

“Dog-gone Holiday” by Melinda Curtis

5 stars

This one was dog-gone cute! I loved this one, with a chef and a food critic finding themselves spending the holiday together in the sweetest way. And Snowflake the St. Bernard absolutely steals the show! 

“Love Guides the Way” by Cari Lynn Webb

5 stars

As someone who also has a condition that impacted my vision (although not to the same extent), I appreciated this story for providing such a compassionate portrayal of potential blindness and the choice to live with one’s diagnosis vs. hoping in vain for a cure. I love how that was navigated as chance seemingly threw Kelsey and Noah together, with Noah having come up with potentially revolutionary techniques that could save her vision. 

***

This is a charming collection, and I really liked that it varied thematically, in spite of the common thread of Thanksgiving as a celebration. I really enjoyed this collection, and would recommend if you’re looking for something fun to read leading up to (American) Thanksgiving. 

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Review of “Lord of the Forest” (Trysts and Treachery #3) by Elizabeth Keysian

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

ASIN: B08KJJRNXV | $0.99 USD | 306 pages | Historical Romance—Tudor

Blurb

You can take a man out of the wild, but you can’t take the wild out of the man.

She failed to save the man she loved. She won’t make the same mistake again. 

Desperate to avoid a suffocating marriage, Clemence plans to dazzle at court, and remain as chaste as The Virgin Queen. Then she’s rescued from kidnappers by the mysterious Lancelot, and only a betrothal to him can save her reputation. But what could induce her father to give her to a man with no memory, no status, and no home but the forest? Especially when that man has a propensity for throwing people into horse troughs, getting himself poisoned, and being accused of murder.

In his forest home, he’s a king among both beasts and men.

Lancelot does everything differently. He can’t help it; he’s been living free in the forest with no memory of shame, sin or the reason for wearing clothes. No memory of anything at all, in fact, although his dreams reveal he’s had a close brush with death. But was he a victim or quite the opposite?

Living hand-to-mouth in his woodland lair, Lancelot is used to helping himself to what he wants, and he wants Clemence. But when she drags him back into the real world, he soon realizes that she will either bring him salvation or oblivion.

In the series

#1 Lord of Deception 

#2 Lord of Loyalty 

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 Forest is another exciting installment in the Trysts and Treachery series. The story stands alone, not referencing much in the previous books, beyond being set in the same treacherous Elizabethan world, however, the books are all excellent, and worth reading. 

Amnesia plots are hard to pull off, and while it did result in dampening my enjoyment slightly, I still enjoyed Lancelot’s story arc, given the stakes that were so cleverly and suspensefully revealed, making him easy to root for.

I also easily became invested in Clemence as a heroine. I admired her for not wanting to be shackled to a bad husband, but finding a way to manage her situation as best she can with her father in control of her destiny, and when she finds herself betrothed to the mysterious Lancelot. 

Full of romance and danger, this is another wonderful installment in Keysian’s Tudor-era series. If you love the period, or love historical romances with a suspenseful edge, I strongly recommend this one. 

Author Bio

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

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

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

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

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

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Review of “After the Wedding” (The Worth Saga #2) by Courtney Milan

Milan, Courtney. After the Wedding. [Place of publication not identified]: Courtney Milan, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1937248611 | $4.99 USD | 364 pages | Victorian Romance

Blurb

The only thing more inconvenient than Camilla’s marriage at gunpoint is falling in love with her unwilling groom…

Adrian Hunter, the son of a duke’s daughter and a black abolitionist, is determined to do whatever his family needs-even posing as a valet to gather information. But his mission spirals out of control when he’s accused of dastardly intentions and is forced to marry a woman he’s barely had time to flirt with.

Camilla Worth has always dreamed of getting married, but a marriage where a pistol substitutes for “I do” is not the relationship she hoped for. Her unwilling groom insists they need to seek an annulment, and she’s not cruel enough to ruin a man’s life just because she yearns for one person to care about her.

As Camilla and Adrian work to prove their marriage wasn’t consensual, they become first allies, then friends. But the closer they grow, the more Camilla’s heart aches. If they consummate the marriage, he’ll be stuck with her forever. The only way to show that she cares is to make sure he can walk away for good…

In the series

#1 Once Upon a Marquess

#1.5 Her Every Wish

#2.5 The Pursuit Of…

2.75 Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure

Review

3 stars

After the Wedding is a slight improvement on its predecessor, but still not up to the standards of previous and now more recent Milan fare. It’s still a Courtney Milan book and her prose remains charming in and of itself, but I was still somewhat underwhelmed by the story as a whole.

I do feel that this one did benefit from having the larger pieces set in place by the prior book, so while I found myself feeling a bit lost on first picking it up prior to reading book one (the library had this one, but not OUaM, and it wasn’t even requestable through OverDrive, while this one had been), I felt more secure that I had the background information I needed. It is, however, another legal plot, and some of the intricacies, while familiar to me as a historical reader, were a bit dull. 

The characters were ok. I particularly liked Adrian as a hero, especially given his background as a half-Black grandson of a duke willing to do whatever his family needs. I’m so excited to see more of his family in the next book (and that it finally has a release date!) 

I was less wowed by Camilla. Her background was compelling, but I just didn’t feel super connected to her, although I deeply wanted to, as I do resonate with stories about loss of confidence and sense of self. 

While I didn’t love this like I deeply hoped (especially since the novellas are really good), this is definitely an improvement on the first book. And, being aware that this was a product of Milan’s dark period puts things in perspective. But I do still see a lot of potential for this series, and if readers want to get caught up in time for the next book, I think it’s worth giving it a shot. 

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 “Once Upon a Time in Bath” (The Brides of Bath #7) by Cheryl Bolen

Bolen, Cheryl. Once Upon a Time in Bath. [Place of publication not identified]: Harper & Appleton, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1950000418 | $3.99 USD | 254 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

Lord Appleton may be a bit of a rake but he’s never been one to lose his head at the gaming tables. Yet he loses everything on a night of which he has no memory. How will he dower his sisters? Where will they live when the vile man who bought his debts forces them from their house in Bath? Lord Appleton will do anything to reclaim their house and avoid hurting his family—even if it means having to marry a peculiar heiress.

When Miss Dorothea Pankhurst arrives in Bath with her ailing father—and the four cats she’s never without—she is ignorant of the ways of Society. Then the kindly Lord Appleton and his gracious sister take her under their wing. She’s immediately smitten with the handsome viscount and thrilled beyond measure when he asks for her hand in marriage.

After the murder of a young dealer at the gambling house where Appleton played, Dot and Appleton grow closer as they work together to find the killer. But they’re not fully aware of the sinister forces trying to pull them apart . . .

In the series

#1 The Bride Wore Blue

#2 With His Ring 

#3 The Bride’s Secret

#4 To Take This Lord

#5 Love in the Library 

#6 A Christmas in Bath

Review

3 stars

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

Once Upon a Time in Bath is the first book I’ve picked up by Cheryl Bolen, but I have been familiar with her name for a while, thanks to her being among the various random self published authors donated to my local library branch (now closed for renovations) and a few freebies I subsequently picked up once I acquired my eReaders. I was also somewhat aware she tended toward the sweet side, a bit of a Heyer/Carla Kelly-esque Traditional Regency, with a bit of a suspenseful side. 

And I like Traditional Regencies, but it’s definitely been a while since I’ve read one. It’s fairly predictable, but it’s not always a bad thing. While the villain is not a mystery, the thrill of the chase is a ton of fun. And if nothing else, the ridiculousness of Lord Appleton being drugged and losing his fortune is definitely worth reading for. 

However, the character depth is lacking. I didn’t feel much for Dot or Appleton throughout, so even though there were stakes, I never fully was invested. And Dot’s beauty is emphasized beyond anything else, and while I have nothing against beautiful people, it was just a bit too much. 

While this book didn’t really work for me, Bolen’s writing is engaging, and I’m definitely interested in trying something else from her. If you love sweet Regency romance, perhaps you’ll enjoy this more than I did. 

Author Bio

Since being named Notable New Author for 1997, Cheryl Bolen has published more than 35 books with Kensington/Zebra, Harlequin, Love Inspired Historical, Montlake, and independently. She has broken into the top 5 on the New York Times and hit the USA Today bestseller list. Her 2005 One Golden Ring won Best Historical, Holt Medallion, and her 2011 My Lord Wicked was awarded Best Historical in the International Digital Awards, the same year her Christmas novella was chosen as Best Novella. Her books have been finalists for other awards, including the Daphne du Maurier, and have been translated into eight languages. She’s also been the number 1 bestselling historical romance author in Germany.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English from the University of Texas and a master’s degree from the University of Houston. Her favorite pursuits are reading diaries of dead English women, traveling to England, and watching the Texas Longhorns play football and basketball. She and her recently retired professor husband are the parents of two sons. One is an attorney, the other a journalist.

Website: www.CherylBolen.com
Blog: www.cherylsregencyramblings.wordpress.co
Facebook: http://fbl.ink/Facebook

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Review of “The Year of the Witching” by Alexis Henderson

Henderson, Alexis. The Year of the Witching. New York: Ace, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0593099605 | $26.00 USD | 359 pages |
Fantasy

Blurb

A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut.

In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.

But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.

Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.

Review

5 stars

The Year of the Witching has been pitched as “The Handmaid’s Tale meets the Salem Witch Trials.” And while I haven’t read the former, I know it by reputation, especially due to the way it has been discussed with the current state of US politics in mind. As for the latter, I’ve done some basic research on the dark events that passed back in 1692-3. And with that in mind, this is a compelling, relevant book exploring a repressive patriarchal society inspired by the past and the speculation for the future based on the present trajectory of the world, in spite of all progress made. It is such an engrossing, haunting story that both delves into serious issues and manages to grab the reader and not let them go.

Immanuelle is such a realistic, engaging protagonist, given the events that shaped her past and are working against her in the present. She starts off very vulnerable and grows into a stronger character over the course of the story in order to save those she cares about. 

This is a dark, beautiful book, both entertaining and enlightening. And with the “witch” theme, it makes the perfect read to pick up in the lead-up to Halloween. 

Author Bio

Alexis Henderson is a speculative fiction writer with a penchant for dark fantasy, witchcraft, and cosmic horror. She grew up in one of America’s most haunted cities, Savannah, Georgia, which instilled in her a life-long love of ghost stories. When she doesn’t have her nose buried in a book, you can find her painting or watching horror movies with her feline familiar. Currently, Alexis resides in the sun-soaked marshland of Charleston, South Carolina.

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Review of “The Virgin Who Ruined Lord Gray” (The Swooning Virgins Society #1) by Anna Bradley

Bradley, Anna. The Virgin Who Ruined Lord Gray. New York: Lyrical Press, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1516110377 | $7.99 USD | 268 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

Behind the doors of the Clifford Charity School for Wayward Girls there lies a secret society of brilliant, fearless women who are bringing justice to London’s most corrupt aristocrats, one nobleman at a time…
 
Other young ladies might occupy their spare time with drawing or needlework, but Sophia Monmouth spends hers scaling rooftops and shadowing suspicious characters. Her objective: to gain information that will free a friend wrongly accused of murder. She hasn’t bargained on being spotted and followed back to the Clifford School by a mysterious earl who holds almost as many secrets as she does.
 
Tristan Stratford, Lord Gray, earned the nickname the Ghost of Bow Street because no man has ever escaped him. Sophia—all soft curves beneath her disguise—is a unique challenge. Determined to learn the truth about the Clifford School, he joins Sophia in a scheme that leads from Newgate’s cells to the pinnacle of power. But when desire is at odds with justice, succumbing to temptation may lead them both into the heart of danger. . . .

Review

4.5 stars

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

The Virgin Who Ruined Lord Gray was the first book by Anna Bradley I picked up, as while she was on my radar since at least her first series with Lyrical, this was the first book that really stood out and piqued my interest due to the undertones of suspense in the blurb and on the cover, even if it does have a somewhat cheesy title. And it absolutely delivers, bringing a near-perfect blend of mystery and romance, with an almost Gothic feel. 

I was drawn to Sophia right away due to her daring. I liked that she was willing to do crazy things like scale rooftops and chase after suspicious people in the name of seeking justice for a friend. Her schemes made the story a lot of fun. 

She’s balanced out well by the law-abiding former Bow Street Runner-turned-Earl Tristan, Lord Gray (although I feel like Bradley missed a trick by not taking advantage of the Earl Grey tea puns!) I like how he has a mysterious persona of his own in the Ghost of Bow Street, which makes him and Sophia perfect adversaries, but also a wonderful couple once they come together. In typical fashion for this setup (and it does seem like this trope is very popular this year), she challenges him to think outside his by-the-book sense of morality, but Bradley makes it her own with her distinct style. 

As this is the first of a new series, I can’t wait to see what happens next (book two looks so good!) And if you love historical romance that tends toward the more Gothic or suspenseful, with a feisty, determined heroine and a hero who can match her, then you’ll enjoy this book. 

Author Bio

Anna Bradley writes steamy, sexy Regency historical romance. Anna’s first book, A WICKED WAY TO WIN AN EARL, won a Romantic Times Review’s Choice Award for Best First Historical. Anna lives with her husband and two children in Portland, OR, where people are delightfully weird and love to read.

Readers can get in touch with Anna via her contact page or, for all things romance (and an occasional “hot hero” pic!) please visit Anna on Facebook.

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Review of “Together, Apart” by Erin A. Craig , Auriane Desombre, Erin Hahn, Bill Konigsberg, Rachael Lippincott, Brittney Morris, Sajni Patel, Natasha Preston, and Jennifer Yen

Craig, Erin A., et. al. Together, Apart. New York: Delacorte Press, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0593375304 | $9.99 USD | 288 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

Blurb

A collection of original contemporary love stories set during life in lockdown by some of today’s most popular YA authors.

Erin Craig “delivers” on a story about a cute pizza delivery boy, Auriane Desombre captures a girl trying to impress her crush on TikTok, and Bill Konigsberg takes readers along on daily walks where every step brings two boys closer to love. There’s roommates-to-enemies-to-something more from Rachael Lippincott, a tale of a girl with a mask-making business and her potentially famous crush from Erin Hahn, and a music-inspired meet cute from Sajni Patel. Brittney Morris sparks a connection with the help of two balcony herb gardens, Jennifer Yen writes an unconventional romance that starts with a fortune reading and a take-out order, and Natasha Preston steals hearts when a girl meets up with the boy next door in a storybook oak tree.

Romantic, realistic, sweet and uplifting, TOGETHER, APART is a collection of finding love in unexpected places during an unprecedented time . . . each with the one thing we all want: a guaranteed happy ending.

In support of the book’s publication, a donation will be made to Active Minds, a nonprofit organization dedicated to mental health education, research, and advocacy for young adults ages 14-25.

Review

Given the way COVID-19 has changed the world, it was inevitable certain books would talk about it (and in certain circles, they have for months now). And while everyone deserves the right to read or write what they want, I’m glad to see a YA anthology that demonstrates the possibilities of the types of romance that could happen, while also being aware of the severity of the situation at hand. 

“Love, Delivered” by Erin A. Craig

4 stars

Pure cuteness. I love the idea of a meet-cute between the new girl and the pizza delivery guy, and this one is just adorable.

“The Socially Distant  Dog-Walking Brigade” by Bill Konigsberg

4 stars

Dogs have always been a conversation starter, and I love this reminder that things don’t have to be different and in that regard just because a major aspect of life and how we do things has changed. 

“One Day” by Sajni Patel

5 stars

I love the quirky banter in this one! From fighting over a shoe to forming a connection over music?! 

“The Rules of Comedy” by Auriane Desombre

4 stars

Another cute one about embracing old ways of communicating. Even in the digital age, it’s cool to see. 

“The New Boy Next Door” by Natasha Preston

4 stars

Cute story about falling for the new neighbor

“Love with a Side of Fortune” by Jennifer Yen

4 stars

I liked the fortune aspect, as it really set it apart from the others. The romance was a bit underwhelming, however. 

“The Green Thumb War” by Brittney Morris

2 stars

Dual first person is already hard to pull off in longer form works; it’s just plain jarring here. While I appreciate the subheadings alerting me to the POV change, I just didn’t need so much of it in a short story.

“Stuck with You” by Rachael Lippincott

4 stars

While I don’t love forced proximity, I loved the twist in this one, following roommates who don’t really get along having to spend time together in quarantine. 

“Masked” by Erin Hahn

2 stars

This is another one that lost me with the multiple first person. It had a great concept, but I just couldn’t get invested in it. 

***

While not all the stories are great, that is typical of all collections. I’m sure there’s something here for anyone who chooses to pick up this collection, demonstrating the possibility for love and hope, even in the midst of dark times.

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Review of “His Grumpy Childhood Friend” (Cider Bar Sisters #2) by Jackie Lau

Lau, Jackie. His Grumpy Childhood Friend. Toronto, Ontario: Jackie Lau Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1989610145 | $3.99 USD | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

It’s been five years since Charlotte Tam had to endure a public proposal at a baseball game—literally the stuff of her nightmares—and realized her ex never really knew her. She hasn’t dated since, afraid that no man will understand her cranky, introverted, coffee-obsessed self, but she wants to try again. Her friend suggests she ask a guy to ease her into the dating game and give her some lessons.

That night at the cider bar, Charlotte runs into Mike Guo, her childhood best friend who lived in the house next door twenty years ago. Surely easygoing Mike, who is now surprisingly handsome, must do well in the world of love. He’s the perfect candidate for this.

But as they go on practice dates around Toronto and even have kissing lessons, Charlotte starts to fall for Mike, and that was never part of the plan. He’s too different from her, just like her ex—how could it work? And she suspects Mike has secrets of his own…

Can their childhood friendship really become love?

In the series

#1 Her Big City Neighbor 

Review

5 stars

I received an ARC from the author as part of her Review Crew in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

His Grumpy Childhood Friend is my first full-length foray into Jackie Lau’s books (although I’ve read one of her novellas before), and I really enjoyed it. While it is book two of a series, it works perfectly well as a stand-alone, and I had no trouble getting invested in the “world” Lau created.

This book excited me because it has a grumpy heroine/sunshine hero (much preferable in my opinion to the much more common reverse dynamic), and I really enjoyed it, especially in the way it thwarted stereotypes in other ways.

Charlotte in particular is very relatable, as someone who isn’t great with people and loves to work from home (I did envy the fact that she had found her niche, career wise, while I’m still fruitlessly searching, but I digress). I could relate to all her grumpy moments, and I loved that there wasn’t some deeper reason for it. I also appreciate the general absence of people trying to encourage her to break out of her shell more (the bane of my existence), and that she chooses to pursue dating (both fake and not) on her terms.

I also love Mike and how he puts up a cool, easygoing front to hide the darkness he’s dealt with in his childhood. It’s far too common for the broody guys to be the ones with loads of trauma in their past, but I liked seeing someone like Mike who is desperately trying to pretend everything is normal in spite of what he has dealt with.

And their dynamic is just wonderful, transitioning with ease from childhood friends who grew apart to fake dating to real dating so naturally. I loved seeing them play off each other, and while there is a crisis in the relationship, it’s not major and it’s handled so beautifully. 

This book is absolutely wonderful, a sweet fluffy cloud that is also not lacking in some emotional weight. And with the additions of some great food, solid friendships, and a dash of humor, it’s absolutely something fans of multicultural and/or foodie romance lovers need to pick up. 

Author Bio

Jackie Lau decided she wanted to be a writer when she was in grade two, sometime between writing “The Heart That Got Lost” and “The Land of Shapes.” She later studied engineering and worked as a geophysicist before turning to writing romance novels.

Jackie lives in Toronto with her husband, and despite living in Canada her whole life, she hates winter. When she’s not writing, she enjoys gelato, gourmet donuts, cooking, hiking, and reading on the balcony when it’s raining.

Email: jackielaubooks at gmail.com

Represented by Courtney Miller-Callihan at Handspun Literary.

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Review of “The Duke Effect” (The Rogue Files #7) by Sophie Jordan

Jordan, Sophie. The Duke Effect. New York: Avon Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0062885456 | $7.99 USD | 352 pages | Victorian Romance

Blurb

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Sophie Jordan continues her bestselling Rogue Files series with this captivating romance that will thrill her many fans.

She doesn’t care about love…

Despite being surrounded by her happily wed sisters, Nora Langley prefers botany to ballrooms and would rather spend a lifetime in her laboratory than consider affairs of the heart. An expert herbalist, Nora has been masquerading as her late physician father for years, dispensing invaluable medical advice. She corresponds with people all over the world, including an old army colonel. But when the man shows up on her doorstep, he is nothing like she expected—he is a young, handsome heir to a dukedom who suddenly threatens everything she holds dear.

He only cares about duty…

Constantine Sinclair arrives on the Langley doorstep in a desperate bid to save the woman who raised him, the Duchess of Birchwood … only to discover that the venerable doctor he expected is a bold and lovely charlatan. Furious at the deception, he vows to reveal her secrets. Determined to prove her skills, Nora promises to save the duchess in exchange for Con keeping her secret. Con reluctantly agrees… and soon Nora’s brilliant, headstrong ways are throwing his carefully controlled life into chaos. What happens when the rigid soldier begins to lose his grip on his heart?

In the series

#1 While the Duke Was Sleeping

#2 The Scandal of it All 

#3 The Duke Buys a Bride

#4 This Scot of Mine 

#5 The Duke’s Stolen Bride

#6 The Virgin and the Rogue

Review 

2 stars

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

I was deeply disappointed by The Duke Effect, and while my expectations weren’t sky high, I did enjoy the prior book, in which this book’s heroine, Nora, played a major role, so to have this book fail so epically for me was a letdown.

Nora for at least the first part of the book, is still fairly intriguing, as I like that she isn’t interested in marriage and has taken over her late father’s role of physician in some respects. However, once the romance really picks up, I felt this aspect (and all conflicts with Con as a result of it) were dropped a bit too hastily.

Con was just not likable at all. He wasn’t offensive, but I just never warmed up to him. He does have a decent relationship with his distant (?) relatives, the Duke and Duchess of Birchwood, but I never felt he made a strong case for himself as a romance hero. And the transition from being at odds over Nora’s deception to a romance felt awkward and forced, and I couldn’t get invested in any of their intimate moments. 

And while it does not impact my rating at all, I love how it took until the final book for it to be confirmed a Victorian series, a bombshell first conveyed subtly  with a passing mention a few books back. While I don’t look to Jordan for extensive historical detail, I find these “vaguely Regency” series that end up being set far outside that time period a bit frustrating, even if it’s purely for marketing purposes.

I didn’t love this, and this is a further indicator that Sophie Jordan is a hit-or-miss author for me, at least in my experience of her historical work (I haven’t experienced enough of her other work to be certain as a whole). I think, if you love her work more consistently, you’ll enjoy this one. 

Author Bio

Sophie Jordan took her adolescent daydreaming one step further and penned her first romance in the back of her high school Spanish class. This passion led her to pursue a degree in English and History.

A brief stint in law school taught her that case law was not nearly as interesting as literature – teaching English seemed a natural choice. After several years teaching high school students to love ANTIGONE, Sophie decided it was time to pursue her long-held dream of writing. Two years later, she landed her first publishing contract.

Her first book, ONCE UPON A WEDDING NIGHT, was a 2006 Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Nominee for Best First Historical. Her second novel, TOO WICKED TO TAME, released in March 2007 with a bang – landing on the USA Today Bestseller’s List. A few books later marked her first appearance on the New York Times bestseller list with the release of IN SCANDAL THEY WED.

And as if she’s not busy enough, Sophie writes young adult fiction for HarperTeen and contemporary paranormals for Pocket. Sophie resides in Houston with her family and loves to hear from readers. To learn the latest information about Sophie and her books, follow her on facebook and twitter.

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Review of “The Dragon Republic” (The Poppy War #2) by R.F. Kuang

Kuang, R.F. The Dragon Republic. New York: Harper Voyager, 2019.

 ISBN-13: 978-0062662637 | $26.99 USD | 658 pages | Fantasy 

Blurb

The searing follow-up to 2018’s most celebrated fantasy debut – THE POPPY WAR.

In the aftermath of the Third Poppy War, shaman and warrior Rin is on the run: haunted by the atrocity she committed to end the war, addicted to opium, and hiding from the murderous commands of her vengeful god, the fiery Phoenix. Her only reason for living is to get revenge on the traitorous Empress who sold out Nikan to their enemies.

With no other options, Rin joins forces with the powerful Dragon Warlord, who has a plan to conquer Nikan, unseat the Empress, and create a new Republic. Rin throws herself into his war. After all, making war is all she knows how to do.

But the Empress is a more powerful foe than she appears, and the Dragon Warlord’s motivations are not as democratic as they seem. The more Rin learns, the more she fears her love for Nikan will drive her away from every ally and lead her to rely more and more on the Phoenix’s deadly power. Because there is nothing she won’t sacrifice for her country and her vengeance.

The sequel to R.F. Kuang’s acclaimed debut THE POPPY WAR, THE DRAGON REPUBLIC combines the history of 20th-century China with a gripping world of gods and monsters, to devastating effect.

In the series 

#1 The Poppy War

Review 

5 stars

The Dragon Republic is a strong follow-up to The Poppy War, building on the strong foundations of the first book, raising the stakes in such an epic way. Once again it does not pull any punches, exploring the darkness of war and darkness, and the way it corrupts. 

While I did say the first book felt a bit like a “hero’s journey,” I did not note the subtle hints of a corruption arc for Rin, which this book more further embraces, and thus, I will go back on those comments and say that it further subverts that traditional archetype here. Kuang noted once in an interview that Mao Zedong served as inspiration for Rin, and that comes through more so here, with her growing anger and willingness to do questionable things if it justifies the means.

I continue to love the development of the world, especially having come to a deeper understanding of the historical parallels, both through consulting interviews with Kuang and doing my own research. I love how dynamic and gritty it feels, with thought to the lasting impact of violence both on the world as a whole and on each individual, instead of “you defeat the Big Bad, and everything is fine.” And I also had an increased appreciation for the magic system and its implications, as its rooted in shamanism abd hallucinogens to connect you with gods, but there’ s also a major plot point of Rin dealing with opium addiction. 

This installment is perhaps even better than the first, and I can’t wait to see how it ends. If you are looking for a diverse grimdark fantasy, I can’t recommend this series enough. 

Author Bio

Rebecca F. Kuang is a Marshall Scholar, translator, and the Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Award nominated author of the Poppy War trilogy. She has an MPhil in Chinese Studies from Cambridge and an MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies from Oxford; she is now pursuing a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale.

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Review of “Kissing Lessons” by Sophie Jordan

Jordan, Sophie. Kissing Lessons. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1328977076 | $17.99 USD | 276 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

Blurb

A steamy contemporary YA romance by New York Times best-selling author Sophie Jordan about a girl with a bad reputation giving lessons on how to attract guys for some extra cash—only to fall for her client’s golden-boy brother. For fans of Kami Garcia, Katie McGarry, and Netflix’s Sex Education.

Wild, beautiful, and (as rumor has it) experienced, Hayden Vargas doesn’t have time for love or relationships. She’s learned the hard way that the only person you can count on is yourself, and she’s hell-bent on earning enough money to leave her small, judgy Texas town as fast as possible. So when nerdy Emmaline Martin offers to pay Hayden for lessons in seduction, the money is so easy, there must be a catch. Enter the catch: Emmaline’s older brother, popular, all-around nice guy™ Nolan Martin, who doesn’t want his sister’s reputation tarnished by the school’s resident bad girl.

But Hayden should know that looks can be deceiving. Nolan may seem like a golden boy, but like Hayden, he has a few secrets of his own. And the more he meddles in her lessons with Emmaline, the more these polar opposites clash—and the more sparks fly. Turns out Nolan may have some lessons to teach Hayden, but only if she’s willing to learn.

Review

4 stars

Kissing Lessons is the first contemporary I’ve picked up from Sophie Jordan, who I’m more familiar with for her historicals (with a brief dip into her YA paranormal series). And while it’s different from what I’m used to from her, I’ve always known she was a writer in numerous subgenres and styles, and I’m pleased that quirky rom-com is one of them. 

I was a bit unsure about the structure at first, with four POV characters and two couples, with the characters being related to one another. While it’s obvious by the blurb one is meant to be the greater focus, the other should also have some emphasis too. And I felt that that’s where the story fell down a bit. Hayden and Nolan got a lot of page time, and a resolution to their relationship. Emmaline got decent page time, both as a POV character and not, but I felt Beau wasn’t utilized enough, and his and Emmaline’s happy ending in particular felt a little rushed.

However, the characters were by and large fairly sympathetic. Hayden comes from a broken, dysfunctional home and deals with a bad reputation at a school that she longs to escape from. And Nolan wasn’t just your typical golden boy, with a lot going on in his life, with him feeling responsible for his family now that his dad has passed on. Meanwhile, Emmaline, Nolan’s younger sister is relatable in that she wants more freedom from her protective older brother. 

This is a charming, somewhat tropey YA romance that I really enjoyed, and I will be on the lookout for more of these from Sophie Jordan (if I recall correctly, she has one other YA contemporary). And if you love YA contemporary romances, or maybe are a Sophie Jordan fan of some of her other work and have been wanting to branch out, I think you’ll enjoy this one! 

Author Bio

Sophie Jordan grew up in the Texas hill country where she wove fantasies of dragons, warriors, and princesses. A former high school English teacher, she’s also the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Avon historical romances. She now lives in Houston with her family. When she’s not writing, she spends her time overloading on caffeine (lattes and Diet cherry Coke preferred), talking plotlines with anyone who will listen (including her kids), and cramming her DVR with true-crime and reality-TV shows. Sophie also writes paranormal romances under the name Sharie Kohler.

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Review of “Love’s Garden” by Nandini Bhattacharya

Bhattacharya, Nandini. Love’s Garden. Ashburn, VA: Aubade Publishing, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1951547080 | $18.95 USD | 300 pages | Historical Fiction

Blurb

It is 1898. India is ruled by the British, and India’s women are ruled by British masters as well as Indian men. A desperate young widow makes the ultimate tragic sacrifice to save herself from dishonor. She marries a stranger for security and shelter, but her damaged second family pays dearly for this Faustian bargain. Then, an extraordinary atonement and strange liaisons in politics and love — spanning the two world wars and the Indian independence movement — help her descendants heal from this traumatic private history. Love’s Garden demonstrates the strength, resilience, and unbreakable spirit of mothers and daughters navigating layers of oppression, all while the sun is not-so-peacefully setting on British India.

Review

4 stars

Colonial India can be a hard setting to depict in a way that does it justice, but Nandina Bhattacharya does so for the most part, although as one might expect, it’s hardly a pleasant read. Granted, the cover is very misleading, playing into a very romanticized image of the period that could deceive readers. 

I enjoyed the historical breadth of the book, getting a real sense of the dark times the  Indian people lived through, from life under the British Raj to the impact of the two world wars. It does feel at times like the story was an endless cycle of misery, with not even a glimmer of hope for anyone, but I do understand that that’s the point.

I did also find the cast of characters a bit too large and confusing, making it hard to really become invested in each of them personally, even if their broader stories were compelling. I feel, given it is a family saga, it could have benefited from some sort of character guide to help keep track of everyone.

Despite some of these minor  issues, I did mostly enjoy the book, even if I did not expect it to go in the direction it did. I think, if you’re looking for an honest, unflinching look at colonialism and the British Raj from an Indian author’s perspective, then this is a book worth picking up. 

Author Bio

Nandini Bhattacharya was born and raised in India and has called the United States her second continent for the last thirty years. Wherever she has lived, she has generally turned to books for answers to life’s big and small questions. Her short stories have been published in Meat for Tea: the Valley Review, Storyscape Journal, Raising Mothers, The Bacon Review, The Bangalore Review, OyeDrum, and Ozone Park Journal. She has attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Workshop and held residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, VONA, and Craigardan Writers Residency (forthcoming). She was first runner-up for the Los Angeles Review Flash Fiction contest (2017-2018), a finalist for the Fourth River Folio Contest for Prose Prize (2018), long-listed for the Disquiet International Literary Prize (2019 and 2020), and a finalist for the Reynolds-Price International Women’s Literary Award (2019). Love’s Garden is her first novel. She is currently working on a second novel about love, racism, xenophobia and other mysteries, titled Homeland Blues. She lives outside Houston with her family and two marmalade cats.

You can read more about her work and interests at
https://www.amazon.com/author/nandini…

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Review of “Tall, Duke, and Dangerous” (Hazards of Dukes #2) by Megan Frampton

Frampton, Megan. Tall, Duke, and Dangerous. New York: Avon Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0062867445 | $7.99 USD | 384 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

Megan Frampton returns with the second book in the Hazards of Dukes series, a series that made Sarah MacLean say “Make Megan Frampton your next read!”

He needs a bride…

Nash, the “dangerous” Duke of Malvern, has always bristled against the rules of English society. Hot tempered and fearful of becoming like his brutish late father, he lives a life of too much responsibility and too little joy. And although he’s vowed to never marry, a duke has a duty—and there’s only one way to get himself an heir and a spare. So Nash reluctantly takes a look around at society’s available young ladies to see who might be willing to put up with his one-word answers and frequent glowers.

She longs for love…

After the death of her father and wicked stepmother, Ana Maria goes from virtual servant to lady-in-training, and while society life has its benefits—gorgeous gowns!—its restrictive rules stifle her spirit. And when her independent actions put her in danger, her half-brother insists Nash teach her some self-defense. While most of London’s ladies find Nash intimidating, she only sees a man who needs introducing to all the joys life has to offer. So although officially they are coming together for fighting lessons, unofficially their physical contact begins to blur the line between friendship and begins to grown into something more…

In the series

#1 Never Kiss a Duke 

Review 

2.5 stars

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

Tall, Duke, and Dangerous is a real disappointment, especially considering the first book was probably one of the more intriguing historicals I read this year. I expressed concern about Nash being the hero of the next book in that review, and as it turns out, my concerns were justified.

He’s not suddenly a bad person or anything, for all he’s called the “Dangerous Duke.” He’s actually an ok guy, a very good friend to Sebastian, Thad, and Ana Maria. But that’s the extent of what I liked about him in the first book, and adding depth to him didn’t really impress me much. I was intrigued by the idea that he feared becoming like his awful father, but I don’t know if that was explored enough to the point where I cared about him more than I did before.

Ana Maria is a !&( more interesting, and I love that she‘s like Cinderella if she didn’t need to wait for her prince to rescue her from drudgery. And the fact that she’s proactive in embracing all that her new life has to offer, including seeking fighting lessons (and more) from Nash, is really awesome.

This is very much a friends-to-lovers/brother’s-best-friend story, and despite my love for those tropes, there wasn’t much to engage me with this one. The reasons for both to not just marry each other grow thinner and thinner as the book goes on, yet it remains a repetitive cycle of “I’m into you, but no, we can’t be together.” And while not any shorter than the first one (at least based on page counts, word counts with formatting could tell a different story), this one felt rushed, especially towards the end, when things were suddenly brought to an all-too-convenient conclusion. 

On the whole, this one just felt phoned-in, a real disappointment after the promise of the first book. I do have hope that the next book (Thad’s?) will make up for it. And I do think it’s still worth checking out, because as always, my opinion is subjective and it seems to have generated some good reviews from other people.

Author Bio

Megan Frampton writes historical romance under her own name and romantic women’s fiction under the name Megan Caldwell. She likes the color black, gin, dark-haired British men, and huge earrings, not in that order. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and kid.

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Review of “Love all Year: A Holidays Anthology”, edited by Elizabeth Kahn

Kahn, Elizabeth, editor. Love All Year: A Holidays Anthology. [Place of publication not identified]: self-published, 2020. 

Blurb

Holiday romance happens all year long . . . Love All Year is an anthology of holiday romances from religions, ethnicities, and cultures around the world. It includes romances set during Sukkot, Yule, Purim, Juneteenth, Eid-al-Adha, Qixi, and Rosh Hashanah.

Review 

As we head into Christmas book season again (I’ve already reviewed a few of them…did they always come out so early?!), the discussion has floated around again about how they overwhelmingly dominate books about holidays., this collection, determined to prove that love can happen “all year,” and in the context of any holiday from any culture or religious tradition, not just those observed in the US/Western world. And beyond that, the love for the LGBTQ+ community through the dedication to the late author Corey Alexander (Xan West) and the cover art shows the intent is about really celebrating everyone’s right to belong in the romance community.

“Three Stars in the Sky”1 by Stacey Agdern

5 stars

I love the soft, melancholy beauty of this one, with lost love and reconnection explored through the power of music. Highly emotive, it definitely makes the HEA worth it. 

“It Happened One Yule” by Celestine Martin

5 stars

Friends to lovers and pining! This one is absolutely wonderful and hits all the right notes for me in terms of my absolute favorite trope. I loved the way the magic played into it, as sometimes it would be nice to have a little help in situations like this. 

“Queen Esther, Unmasked” by Hallie Alexander

4 stars

This was a lovely historical addition to the collection. A bit too short and needed a bit more, but I liked this story about the coming-together of two strangers in Gilded Age Manhattan.

“Legacy of Love” by Savannah J. Frierson

5 stars 

Prior to this year, with all the increased visibility for Black issues, Juneteenth was just another day. However, I’m glad to have an increased awareness of its historical significance and why Black people not only observe it as a holiday, but view it as a reason to celebrate, as depicted here. I love the thread of second chances and redemption set amid the festivities of Juneteenth, as a couple finds their way back to one another. 

“Making Up with Eid Bae” by Farah Heron

4 stars

This story is quite charming, especially when everything finally worked out. I did feel their reasoning for the breakup wasn’t super strong, and I really hated his family. However, it’s still very sweet, and made me excited to give Farah Heron another chance with her next book (and perhaps try again on her first?), as I felt we got off on the wrong foot. 

“A Bridge of Magpies” by Ekaterine Xia

5 stars

Despite being part Chinese, I had never heard of the Qixi Festival, but I’m glad to have learned, because this celebration seems like such an intriguing one, and one of the few I’ve heard of that centers a romantic story. I love how it parallels with the central queer romance between Verity and Yùlàn.

“The Sweet Spot” by Felicia Grossman

4 stars

Felicia Grossman proves she is capable of handling contemporary as well as historical, with the common thread of Jewish faith. I loved seeing a female rabbi and her struggle to navigate the politics of the church, especially as I commonly associate the position with a man. It’s a bit steamier than I prefer for short stories, but there was plenty of depth to balance it out. 

***

While I enjoyed some stories more than others, I appreciate the intent of the anthology and feel it came through in every page. I’m also glad to hear that Love All Year will be getting a volume 2 at some point! So, if you are looking for an awesome, inclusive collection to read to vary up your holiday reading, I can’t recommend this one enough! 

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Review of “A Song of Wraiths and Ruin” by Roseanne A. Brown

Brown, Roseanne A. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin. New York: Balzer & Bray, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0062891495 | $18.99 USD | 466 pages | YA Fantasy

Blurb

For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts Malik’s younger sister, Nadia, as payment into the city, Malik strikes a fatal deal—kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia’s freedom.

But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has been assassinated; her court threatens mutiny; and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic . . . requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition.

When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?

The first in an fantasy duology inspired by West African folklore in which a grieving crown princess and a desperate refugee find themselves on a collision course to murder each other despite their growing attraction.

Review

4 stars

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is a fairly compelling, promising debut. The author, in promotion for her release, has tried to make the case for “Black mediocrity,” that Black authors should be allowed to write something besides “issue books” and engage with genre fiction cliches, as they haven’t been able to in the past. And this book definitely makes a great case for that, even proving my theory that BIPOC taking on tired tropes and subverting them is what breathes new life into them. 

For one, the world building is incredibly compelling. Inspired by Brown’s Ghanaian roots, the imagery is so immersive and imaginative. And while the magic system isn’t overly present, it’s still fairly intriguing.

Karina and Malik are both great characters. They’re very flawed, and I like the way those were explored, especially as they relate to real-world issues, like anxiety. And to have a lead character in a fantasy book deal with migraines was cool, especially as that’s something I deal with too. And while they (especially Karina) could be annoying at times, they always did something that won my heart again.

And given my (ironic) burnout with cliche romances in YA fantasy, I appreciated that this one approached it differently, really navigating that delicate line of enemies-to-lovers in a beautiful and believable way. It also doesn’t take over the story, being more subtle, likely setting up for it to be explored more in the sequel. Regardless of intent, I liked that it allowed for proper navigation of the tropes used, making the evolution feel more natural and realistic (and ultimately poignant) as opposed to forced. 

I’m so excited to find out what comes next, especially since, in standard YA fantasy fashion, it has a bit of an “open” ending.  But it’s absolutely a great addition to the genre, and one I think fans will enjoy. 

Author Bio

Roseanne “Rosie” A. Brown was born in Kumasi, Ghana and immigrated to the wild jungles of central Maryland as a child. Writing was her first love, and she knew from a young age that she wanted to use the power of writing—creative and otherwise—to connect the different cultures she called home. She graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor’s in Journalism and was also a teaching assistant for the school’s Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House program. Her journalistic work has been featured by Voice of America among other outlets.

On the publishing side of things, she has worked as an editorial intern at Entangled Publishing. Rosie was a 2017 Pitch Wars mentee and 2018 Pitch Wars mentor. Rosie currently lives outside Washington D.C., where in her free time she can usually be found wandering the woods, making memes, or thinking about Star Wars.

Rosie is represented by Quressa Robinson of Nelson Literary Agency.

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Review of “If the Boot Fits” (Cowboys of California #2) by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Weatherspoon, Rebekah. New York: Dafina, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1496725417 | $8.99 USD | 320 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

Set on a black-owned luxury dude ranch and with a fairy tale twist, the second Cowbooys of California romance by award-winning author Rebekah Weatherspoon absolutely sizzles! In this thoroughly modern take on the timeless tale of a struggling Cinderella who finds her prince charming at the eleventh hour, an Oscar-winning actor and an aspiring screenwriter attempt to make a relationship work away from the Hollywood spotlight.

Working as the personal assistant to one of Hollywood’s cruelest divas has left Amanda Queen more determined than ever to sell her screenplay and gain her independence. In the meantime, she’ll settle for a temporary escape. When her employer is felled by the flu on Hollywood’s biggest night of the year, Amanda gets her glam on, struts out the door, and parties with the glitterati. But she never expects to come face to face–and closer than close–with one of the hottest stars in the game…

Following up his first Oscar win with a steamy after-hours romp with an enigmatic woman seems like the perfect way for actor Sam Pleasant to celebrate–until she suddenly disappears. Worse, she’s vanished with the wrong swag bag: the one containing his Oscar statue, leaving Sam even more intrigued about the beauty’s identity–and wondering if a repeat performance of their amazing night is in the stars. And when a second chance encounter happens, only a trip to Sam’s family ranch–and revealing the whole, not-always-glamorous, truth about themselves–will give them a chance to turn one magical night into forever…

In the series

#1 A Cowboy to Remember 

Review 

4 stars

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

If the Boot Fits is a delightful second book in Rebekah Weatherspoon’s Cowboys of California series. The first one was great, in spite of the fact that I’m not a huge fan of amnesia plots, but I had high hopes for this one, with its fun, fresh take on the Cinderella story. 

Sam might just be my favorite Pleasant brother, and not just because, according to Rebekah Weatherspoon’s Twitter, he’s modeled, at least physically, on John Boyega. I liked the insight into life as an actor, especially how the story lightly touches on the real life struggles of Black actors in getting roles that don’t fall into certain stereotypes. And I also liked seeing more of him in the context of the Pleasant family, one of the highlights of the first book.

I really liked and rooted for Amanda, given the toxic situation she has to be in in order to survive and find a leg up in the world. And as far as her relationship with Sam goes, I like that she was up-front, from returning the award she took by accident right away to confiding some of her issues when she felt she could. While she did keep some secrets, they are understandable ones, and it’s refreshing to have a couple have such Frank talks instead of playing games.

I did want a bit more nuance from Dru as an antagonist. At first, there’s a possibility of that, but later, she ends up being the cliche “evil stepsister” stand-in. I’m all for not forgiving people who are toxic to you, but I would have hoped for at least some demonstration of remorse or depth on her part.

Otherwise, this is a wonderful, fluffy romance that is perfect for our continually turbulent times. If you love fairy tale retellings and/or Black romance, you won’t want to miss this one!

Author Bio

After years of meddling in her friends’ love lives, Rebekah Weatherspoon turned to writing romance to get her fix. Raised in Southern New Hampshire, Rebekah Weatherspoon now lives in Southern California where she will remain forever because she hates moving.

Her BDSM romance At Her Feet won the Golden Crown Literary Award for erotic lesbian fiction. Her novella FIT (#1 in the FIT Trilogy) won the Romantic Times Book Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Erotica Novella, SATED (#3 in the FIT Trilogy) was nominated for the the Romantic Times Book Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Digital Erotic Romance and most recently SOUL TO KEEP VSS#3 won the 2017 Lambda Literary Award for Best LGBTQ Erotica.

Her 2018 romantic comedy RAFE: A Buff Male Nanny received praise from both Entertainment Weekly and the New York Times. Rebekah’s most recent release HARBOR, the final installment in her Beards & Bondage trilogy is available now. Look for IF THE BOOT fits, the second book in her COWBOYS OF CALIFORNIA trilogy, out Fall 2020 from Kensington Books. In the mean time, you can find Rebekah and her books on twitter at @rdotspoon and her website www.rebekahweatherspoon.com,

Rebekah is represented by Holly Root of Root Literary.

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Review of “Love is a Rogue” (Wallflowers vs. Rogues #1) by Lenora Bell

Bell, Lenora. Love is a Rogue. New York: Avon Books, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-0062993458 | $7.99 USD | 384 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

Once upon a time in Mayfair a group of wallflowers formed a secret society with goals that had absolutely nothing to do with matrimony. Their most troublesome obstacle? Rogues! 

They call her Beastly Beatrice.

Wallflower Lady Beatrice Bentley longs to remain in the wilds of Cornwall to complete her etymological dictionary. Too bad her brother’s Gothic mansion is under renovation. How can she work with an annoyingly arrogant and too-handsome rogue swinging a hammer nearby?

Rogue. Scoundrel. Call him anything you like as long as you pay him.

Navy man Stamford Wright is leaving England soon and renovating Thornhill House is just a job. It’s not about the duke’s bookish sister or her fiery copper hair. Or the etymology lessons the prim-yet-alluring lady insists on giving him. Or the forbidden things he’d love to teach her.

They say never mix business with pleasure. But when Beatrice and Ford aren’t arguing, they’re kissing. 

Sometimes temptation proves too strong to resist…even if the cost is a heart.

Review

5 stars

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

Love is a Rogue is another winner for Lenora Bell! And it’s definitely a top contender for my favorite, although I can’t say for sure, because all her books have been lovely. 

But Ford is definitely my favorite Lenora hero, for obvious reasons: he’s incredibly far removed from the aristocracy, working as a carpenter in the Navy. He bears a reminder of the harshness of society to cross-class love himself, as his mother was of gentle birth, but fell in love with his carpenter father. I love how seeing the impact of what his parents went through impacts his choices as he finds himself drawn to Beatrice. I love how he supported her in her endeavors, yet was reluctant about pursuing her, due to the stigma around a potential  union.

As for Beatrice, I adored her when I met her in Lenora’s previous book (although it should be noted that you do not have to read that book to understand this one), and I love her even more as a heroine. I love the balance between her being secure in her literary gifts, while also having a relatable vulnerability thanks to being mistreated or overlooked thanks to her “beastly” disfigurement. And when she was denied, whether it be her mother trying to hold her back and force her into a traditional mold, or Ford leaving to preserve the status quo, I love that she took action to ensure that she got what she wanted, as a result of society overlooking her and putting her down. 

And I love the “lady knitters.” is customary in romance, it seems there might already be some suitors lined up for them among some of the secondary characters, so I’m curious to see who ends up with who and what adventures are in store for everyone.

I absolutely loved this book, and I can’t wait for everyone to read it. If you love historical romance, you’ll absolutely enjoy this one! 

Author Bio

Lenora Bell is the USA Today bestselling, award-winning author of historical romances with Avon Books. A teacher with an MFA in Creative Writing, Lenora has lived and worked on five continents. She currently lives in New Zealand with her carpenter husband and two tiger-striped rescue kitties. She loves to hear from readers! Sign up for her mailing list to hear about new books, sales, and giveaways!

Learn more at www.LenoraBell.com

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Review of “The Poppy War” (The Poppy War #1) by R.F. Kuang

Kuang, R.F. The Poppy War. New York: Harper Voyager, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0062662569 | $26.99 USD | 530 pages | Fantasy

Blurb

When Rin aced the Keju — the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies — it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard — the most elite military school in Nikan — was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power — an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive — and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away.

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity … and that it may already be too late.

Review

5 stars

I had heard mixed things about The Poppy War initially, making me unsure if I wanted to read it. However, some tweets pushing back against it being called “the Chinese Harry Potter” caught my attention (especially given the way HP has been picked apart recently, in the wake of JKR’s worsening behavior), and I later won a copy of the third book, prompting me to finally give it a go. And, wow, is this another book I regret sleeping on for a while. 

I can see why some of the HP comparisons are there, what with the school setting, but they are tangential at best, and owe more to both being stories of a similar hero’s journey, one of the most common story archetypes. Not to mention, this book is so heavily rooted in Chinese history, the Sino-Japanese War in particular. It’s brutal and doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war, and yet, while I’m not a fan of war books that deal more directly with the violent aspects, there was something so compelling about the prose, that I could not look away, even when it went to dark places. 

I really liked Rin as a character. She is so hard-working, and I admired her determination to see if she has what it takes to be a soldier, even though she is marginalized in ways that are very recognizable to us today, yet are worked very well into the framework of this fantasy society.

This book is such a wonderful, compelling series opener and debut, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. If you’re looking for an unapologetically (but not gratuitously so) dark fantasy, and are looking for one that takes inspiration from Chinese history and culture, I think you’ll enjoy this.

Author Bio

Rebecca F. Kuang is a Marshall Scholar, translator, and the Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Award nominated author of the Poppy War trilogy. She has an MPhil in Chinese Studies from Cambridge and an MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies from Oxford; she is now pursuing a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale.

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Review of “Revealing a Rogue” (The Hadfields #1) by Rachel Ann Smith

Smith, Rachel Ann. Revealing a Rogue. [Colorado]: Penford Publishing, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-195112097 | $3.99 USD | 187 pages | Regency Romance 

Blurb

How do you safeguard your heart from the rogue you’ve sworn to protect?

As secretary at Neale & Sons barristers, an unusual job for a woman, little surprises Miss Bronwyn Cadby. But nothing could prepare Bronwyn for the day Landon Neale, the Earl of Hadfield, waltzes into the office and proposes marriage — to her.

Ready to fulfill his duty and marry, Landon decides the only woman who suits his needs is the brilliant and fiery Miss Bronwyn. But the woman is no blushing debutante. Rather than accept his proposal outright and marry properly, she insists they elope to Gretna Green.

Landon has one carriage ride to reveal his inner rogue and convince Bronwyn she is worthy of being his countess. With every scandalous mile that passes, he will work to win over his reluctant bride.

But will her plan to divert him from the altar succeed?

Revealing a Rogue is a fun, steamy regency romance. If you like unconventional heroines and rogues in disguise, then you’ll adore Rachel Ann Smith’s fast-paced series-opener.

Review

4 stars

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

Revealing a Rogue is the first in her spinoff series, The Hadfields. And while I struggled starting off with the last book in the previous series due to it feeling like there were some continuing plot threads, this one strikes a better balance between being set in the same world and featuring some recurring characters, while also working fairly well as a stand-alone work. 

I enjoyed both Landon and Bronwyn as characters, and liked this unique take on a cross-class dynamic, mixed with a marriage-of-convenience. I like that she challenged him about why he was proposing, and he really worked to win her affections, as opposed to her being grateful to receive the attention of a handsome lord from the get-go. It’s a fairly common setup in HR, but it still feels fresh in the way it’s conveyed.

 The PORF organization is still a factor, although much less so than in the first series. I am still interested in going back when I am able to grasp some of the nuance I missed, but am glad that not being as well-versed in the goings-on of this world did not hinder my enjoyment as much this time around.

This is a promising start to a new series that will delight Rachel Ann Smith’s established reader base, and also serve as a great entry point for historical romance lovers into Smith’s imaginative world. 

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 “Nothing Short of Wondrous” (American Wonders Collection #2) by Regina Scott

Scott, Regina. Nothing Short of Wondrous. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0800736408 | $15.99 USD | 336 pages | Historical Romance/Christian Fiction

Blurb

It is 1886, and the government has given the US Cavalry control of Yellowstone. For widowed hotelier Kate Tremaine, the change is a welcome one. She knows every inch of her wilderness home like the back of her hand and wants to see it protected from poachers and vandals.

Refused a guide by Congress, Lieutenant William Prescott must enlist Kate’s aid to help him navigate the sprawling park and track down the troublemakers. But a secret from his past makes him wary of the tender feelings the capable and comely widow raises in him. As they work together to protect the park and stand firm through injustice and tragedy, they may just find that two wounded hearts can share one powerful love when God is in control.

In the series

#1 A Distance too Grand 

Review 

4 stars

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

I had never read Regina Scott before, but I’ve long been interested in giving her a try, and my interest was piqued by the concept for this book being about Yellowstone, one of the nation’s most well known landmarks, and on the long list of places I’d love to visit someday. 

Regina Scott paints a vivid picture of Yellowstone, making it feel like I was there even while knowing next to nothing about the lay of the land. And she also provides some greater context for a pivotal period in Yellowstone’s history.

I really admired Kate and her dedication to the park as a guide. She can be charming to most guests, while also being protective and doing what she needs to if a guest poses a threat to the park’s natural beauty. Will is also a pretty interesting character, and while I’m not often into a man who is reluctant to pursue a relationship because of something in his past, I think this one was done well, without being overly angsty to the point of ridiculousness.

I also was engaged with their journey to root out all the nefarious dealings in the park. The pacing made for some intriguing twist and turns on that end that explored all the things that could go wrong in the park. 

I really enjoyed this book, and I will be on the lookout for the first book, as well as other titles from Regina Scott. And if you love sweet, evocative historical romance, you’ll enjoy this one. 

Author Bio

Regina Scott started writing novels in the third grade. Thankfully for literature as we know it, she didn’t actually sell her first novel until she had learned a bit more about writing. Since her first Regency romance was published in 1998, her stories have traveled the globe, with translations in many languages including Dutch, German, Italian, and Portuguese. She is now the author of more than 50 works of warm, witty historical romance.

She and her husband of 30 years reside in Washington State on the way to Mt. Rainier. Regina Scott has driven four in hand, learned to fence, sailed on a tall ship, and dressed as a Regency dandy, all in the name of research, of course. Sign up for her free alert service to hear when the next book will be out or on sale at https://subscribe.reginascott.com/. You can find her online blogging at www.nineteenteen.com. Learn more about her at www.reginascott.com and connect with her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/authorreginascott . 

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Review of “The Voting Booth” by Brannndy Colbert

Colbert, Brandy. The Voting Booth. Los Angeles: Disney-Hyperion, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1368053297 $18.99 USD | 293 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

Blurb

Marva Sheridan was born ready for this day. She’s always been driven to make a difference in the world, and what better way than to vote in her first election?

Duke Crenshaw is so done with this election. He just wants to get voting over with so he can prepare for his band’s first paying gig tonight. Only problem? Duke can’t vote.

When Marva sees Duke turned away from their polling place, she takes it upon herself to make sure his vote is counted. She hasn’t spent months doorbelling and registering voters just to see someone denied their right. And that’s how their whirlwind day begins, rushing from precinct to precinct, cutting school, waiting in endless lines, turned away time and again, trying to do one simple thing: vote. They may have started out as strangers, but as Duke and Marva team up to beat a rigged system (and find Marva’s missing cat), it’s clear that there’s more to their connection than a shared mission for democracy.

Romantic and triumphant, The Voting Booth is proof that you can’t sit around waiting for the world to change, but some things are just meant to be. 

Review

5 stars

With it being a major election year, it’s not surprising authors publishers wanted to cash in on the trend. But while other recent and upcoming titles continue to reduce the issues to mere differences of opinion easily overcome, Brandy Colbert tackles the relevant deeper issues of the complexities of voter registration and suppression, with undertones of how Black people are disproportionately impacted by systemic racism, making it important for the next generation to use their voices, both at the ballot box and beyond. 

I loved Marva and her drive immediately. She is a great example of a next generation activist coming into her own, and I love that she’s so passionate about getting people to vote and fight against injustice. She’s exactly the sort of heroine we need out there encouraging our youth (and even some of the older apathetic folks) to vote, and that their voice matters.

Duke is interesting too, and I liked how the experience of having to navigate the hurdles of why he couldn’t cast his vote due to the way the voter registration system works led him to really think about its importance in a way he didn’t before. 

I also love that each has more to them and the beautiful way that’s explored throughout with these little interstitial chapters. Duke’s relationship with his deceased brother, Julian, was particularly moving.

This is such an important book, especially as we are in election season, and regardless of the outcome of the aforementioned election, I think the book will remain so for a while. I recommend it of course to teens coming of age, but to anyone in the US who is looking for an enriching read about the state of our country today. 

Author Bio

Brandy Colbert was born and raised in the Missouri Ozarks and has worked as an editor for several national magazines. She lives and writes in Los Angeles.

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Review of “The Love Note” by Joanna Davidson Politano

Politano, Joanna Davidson. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2020. iSBN-13: 978-0800739201 | $15.99 USD | 384 pages | Victorian Romance/Christian Fiction

Blurb

Focused on a career in medicine and not on romance, Willa Duvall is thrown slightly off course during the summer of 1865 when she discovers a never-opened love letter in a crack of her old writing desk. Compelled to find the passionate soul who penned it and the person who never received it, she takes a job as a nurse at the seaside estate of Crestwicke Manor.

Everyone at Crestwicke has feelings–mostly negative ones–about the man who wrote the letter, but he seems to have disappeared. With plenty of enticing clues but few answers, Willa’s search becomes even more complicated when she misplaces the letter and it passes from person to person in the house, each finding a thrilling or disheartening message in its words. 

Laced with mysteries large and small, this romantic Victorian-era tale of love lost, love deferred, and love found is sure to delight.

Review

4 stars

The Love Note is a bit of an odd book, but in a good way. I did not know what to expect, really, when I picked this up, except that I had enjoyed one of Politano’s prior books, and the blurb sounded intriguing. So I was excited to have this book take me for a ride.

I love that the focus is so much on the note and finding out both about the writer and its intended recipient. While the story focuses largely on Willa’s perspective and her journey to love, it also dips into others’ heads and you see the impact the letter has on them. POV switching can be jarring, especially if not done with great care, so I like that Politano did take the time to flesh out all her characters and make it so the story flowed well in spite of these shifts. While I did still find it a bit odd at times, I wasn’t ever lost. 

And I really liked Willa and Gabe‘s own journey toward finding happiness with one another. Both are very compelling characters. I liked Willa’s ambition for a career over marriage, and Gabe has a sort of quiet, understated affection that I really appreciate, given the tendency toward big, bold, and brooding. 

This was a delightfully original sweet historical romance, and one I think will delight many fans of the genre. 

Author Bio

Joanna Davidson Politano freelances for a small nonfiction publisher but spends much of her time spinning tales that capture the colorful, exquisite details in ordinary lives. Her manuscript for Lady Jayne Disappears was a finalist for several contests, including the 2016 Genesis Award from ACFW, and won the OCW Cascade Award and the Maggie Award for Excellence. She is always on the hunt for random acts of kindness, people willing to share their deepest secrets with a stranger, and hidden stashes of sweets. She lives with her husband and their two babies in a house in the woods near Lake Michigan and shares stories that move her at www.jdpstories.com

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Review of “10 Thigs I Hate About Pinky” (Dimple and Rishi #3) by Sandhya Menon

Menon, Sandhya. 10 Things I Hate About Pinky. New York: Simon Pulse, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1534416819 | $18.99 USD | 354 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

Blurb

The follow-up to When Dimple Met Rishi and There’s Something about Sweetie follows Pinky and Samir as they pretend to date—with disastrous and hilarious results.

Pinky Kumar wears the social justice warrior badge with pride. From raccoon hospitals to persecuted rock stars, no cause is too esoteric for her to champion. But a teeny-tiny part of her also really enjoys making her conservative, buttoned-up corporate lawyer parents cringe.

Samir Jha might have a few . . . quirks remaining from the time he had to take care of his sick mother, like the endless lists he makes in his planner and the way he schedules every minute of every day, but those are good things. They make life predictable and steady.

Pinky loves lazy summers at her parents’ Cape Cod lake house, but after listening to them harangue her about the poor decisions (aka boyfriends) she’s made, she hatches a plan. Get her sorta-friend-sorta-enemy, Samir—who is a total Harvard-bound Mama’s boy—to pose as her perfect boyfriend for the summer. As they bicker their way through lighthouses and butterfly habitats, sparks fly, and they both realize this will be a summer they’ll never forget.

In the series

#1 When Dimple Met Rishi

#2 There’s Something About Sweetie

Review

4 stars

10 Things I Hate About Pinky is another gem for the Dimple and Rishi-verse. Once again, there’s Menon’s signature blend of humor and heart as unlikely lovers fall for one another, with the backbone of Indian culture and close, if complex, family ties.

I vaguely remember both Pinky and Samir as Ashish’s friends from the previous book, but I didn’t recall much of their dynamic there. However, I was quickly brought up to speed with their opposing-personalities relationship between people with a mutual friend who don’t tend to get along much. I liked that they were both strong characters, yet both evolved over the course of the book through getting a fuller picture of the other. Samir in particular revises his opinion about Pinky, with everything he believed he hated becoming something he loved. 

I also enjoyed the exploration of young rebel Pinky’s strained relationship with her straightlaced mother, and how that evolved as well through Pinky finding out secrets in her mom’s past, as well as the reasons she changed. It added some perspective to the mom’s concern beyond the typical “overbearing parent” archetype, which isn’t always developed in a profound way. The resolution is a bit too quick, however, leaving the excellent buildup hanging a bit.

I really enjoyed this book, and while it’s not my favorite of the series, it’s pretty cute. If you loved the first two, you’ll enjoy this one. And if you’re new to the series and looking for YA desi romance, I recommend this one highly.

Author Bio

Sandhya Menon is the New York Times bestselling author of several novels with lots of kissing, girl power, and swoony boys. Her books have been featured in several cool places, including on The Today Show, Teen Vogue, NPR Book Review, Buzzfeed, and Seventeen. A full-time dog servant and part-time writer, she makes her home in the foggy mountains of Colorado.

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Review of “Cemetery Boys” by Aiden Thomas

Thomas, Aiden. Cemetery Boys. New York: Swoon Reads, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1250250469 | $17.99 USD | 244 pages | YA Paranormal/Fantasy

Blurb

A trans boy determined to prove his gender to his traditional Latinx family summons a ghost who refuses to leave in Aiden Thomas’s paranormal YA debut Cemetery Boys, described by Entertainment Weekly as “groundbreaking.”

Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.

When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his true gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.

However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie off some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.

Review

4 stars

The hype for Cemetery Boys leading up to its release on Twitter was infectious, so much so that I threw my typical caution about hyped books to the wind and added it to my TBR straightaway, requesting it from the library as soon as I could, and getting to it as soon as I had finished all my most pressing ARC commitments. And while it’s definitely not with some technical issues, it’s definitely worth the hype. 

As the blurb promises, it perfectly meshes a fun, Dia de Muertos ghost-hunting/summoning story with a deeper narrative about a trans boy desiring acceptance from his traditional family. 

I really liked the characters, and could empathize with Yadriel and his desire to prove himself to his family, even if I’d never been in the same situation he was in. Julian is an utterly charming ghostly love interest. And I liked that there was a balance in the depiction of Yadriel’s family, in that while some were in unaccepting of his new identity, there were some who were, and thus making his motivation to be seen as a brujo not feel like a fruitless battle against people who would never accept him.

And I loved the way the cultural aspects, especially concerning Dia de Muertos, played into the magic system of the book. Having taken Spanish classes in high school and college and learned a bit about the celebrations, it was cool to delve deeper through an ownvoices lens. 

I did hope for a bit more from the ending with the way everything had been built up, so to have it rushed disappointed me. However, it was still a fairly sweet note to end on. 

This book is absolutely worth the hype, and it would make an awesome addition to your seasonal reading, especially if you’re on the lookout for more diverse representation in SFF. 

Author Bio

Aiden Thomas is a New York Times Bestselling author with an MFA in Creative Writing. Originally from Oakland, California, they now make their home in Portland, Oregon. As a queer, trans, Latinx, Aiden advocates strongly for diverse representation in all media. Aiden’s special talents include: quoting The Office, finishing sentences with “is my FAVORITE”, and killing spiders. Aiden is notorious for not being able to guess the endings of books and movies, and organizes their bookshelves by color.

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Review of “London’s Most Elusive Earl” (Midnight Secrets #4) by Anabelle Bryant

Bryant, Anabelle. London’s Most Elusive Earl. New York: Lyrical Press, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1516110933 | $15.95 USD | 246 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

“Your philandering ways need to come to an end. I’ll not have my heritage die by your foolish neglect.” Lord Jonathan Cromford, Earl of Lindsey, is not surprised by his cold-hearted late father’s will and the numerous conditions for claiming his inheritance. But requiring that the rogue first produce an heir is beyond the pale. Still, there was nothing for it but to sacrifice his desires for the sake of his well-being. Temporarily, at least. Yet when Lindsey accidentally meets Lady Caroline Nicholson, he finds that his life is suddenly full of the unexpected . . .

Recently returned to London from Italy, Caroline won’t allow the questionable circumstances of her family’s hasty departure to overshadow her desire to marry well. With the help of her society-savvy cousins, she intends to be engaged before the season ends. But even her best laid plans do not prevent her from becoming tongue-tied upon meeting legendary rakehell, the Earl of Lindsey. She can only hope their instant attraction won’t devastate her future, much less her reputation. Still, as chemistry and fate throw them together, both Caroline and Lindsey may have to choose between comfort and pleasure, fear and truth, security and risk . . .

“Those who enjoy headstrong heroines will appreciate [Amelia’s] story.”
 –Publishers Weekly on London’s Wicked Affair

In the series

#1 London’s Wicked Affair

#2 London’s Best Kept Secret

#3 London’s Late Night Scandal

Review

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

London’s Most Elusive Earl is my latest lesson in “don’t judge a book by its cover” (a lesson I never seem to learn, as I fall for these illustrated covers constantly). Because not only is it not the lighthearted read suggested by the cover, it’s also the fourth in a series with a different cover style for the first three which I felt would have set up my expectations better (although I admit I passed them up at time of release, because I’m contrary like that). However, the issue is not with the continuity, and it stands alone, but it was empty of any real depth or personality at all to compel me to invest my time in it.

This is meant to be about the hero, Jonathan, following through on his father’s last wishes for him. And while one aspect did spark a glimmer of interest, when he finds out his father wasn’t the perfect saint Jonathan and the world thought he was and he sired an illegitimate child. However, the rest of what I managed to get through was fairly uninteresting.

And I didn’t get the point of Caroline? They meet a lot by chance, but I failed to see any spark between them…it all felt so forced. 

And the icing on the cake is the author has no idea how titles and forms of address work. At one point she commits what I’ll call an “Enola” (see the Twitter controversy about the marquess in Enola Holmes) and addresses her hero as Lord Cromford, Earl of Lindsey. Not to mention repeatedly addressing her heroine, the unmarried daughter of a nobleman (I can’t remember if her father’s rank was mentioned, but I assume her father was at least an Earl) as “Lady Nicholson. It’s not hard to fix in editing, but given what I’ve heard about the lack of knowledge editors seem to have about how these systems work, I don’t have hope that will be addressed in final edits.

So, this was just not great for me, and a few others seemed to have issues with it too. But it also has some good reviews, and I’d encourage looking at a balance of them before making a decision.

Author Bio

Anabelle began reading at age three and never stopped. Her passion for reading soon turned into a passion for writing and an author was born. Happy to grab a suitcase if it ensures a new adventure, Anabelle finds endless inspiration in travel, especially imaginary jaunts into Regency England, a far cry from her home in New Jersey. Instead, her clever characters live out her daydreams because really, who wouldn’t want to dance with a handsome duke or kiss a wicked earl?

Though teaching keeps her grounded, photography, running and writing, counterbalance her wanderlust. Often found with her nose in a book, Anabelle earned her Master’s Degree and is completing her Doctorate Degree in education. Thrilled to be an author for Harlequin’s Carina line, Anabelle’s historical romances are character driven. She strives to provide a heartfelt connection between her hero, heroine, and the reader, believing the emotional journey on the path to true love is the most important bond. Clever secondary characters and lively conversation keep the pages turning.

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Review of “Colton 911: Agent by Her Side” (Colton 911: Grand Rapids #4) by Deborah Fletcher Mello

Mello, Deborah Fletcher. Colton 911: Agent by Her Side. Toronto, Ontario: Harlequin, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1335626721 | $5.75 USD | 288 pages | Romantic Suspense

Blurb

You’ve picked Harlequin Romantic Suspense: Danger, passion, drama—the heart-racing page-turners of Harlequin Romantic Suspense keep you guessing to the very end. Experience the thrill of unexpected plot twists and irresistible chemistry.

She’ll do anything to track a killer

And he’ll do anything to keep her in line…


If PI Kiely Colton must work with FBI agent Cooper Winston, she will. But to solve a cold case, she won’t change her break-the-rules style to accommodate the single father’s by-the-book principles. As the investigation progresses, Kiely finds herself inexplicably attracted to her exacting partner and enchanted by his adorable son. Will a ruthless killer put an end to their possible future before it really begins?

Review 

3 stars 

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

Colton 911: Agent by Her Side is the first of the multi-author series I‘ve  read, as well as my first Harlequin Romantic Suspense, however, I was interested in reading books by the author, Deborah Fletcher Mello. And as both my intro to the series/line and the author, it’s a pretty fun one. 

Kiely and Cooper are both great characters, and while they are somewhat opposites, I liked seeing them find common ground. And the bits of Kiely bonding with his young son are adorable. 

It does suffer from an issue I often have with romantic suspense in that I want a bit more of the suspense aspect. However, that is an entirely subjective concern. 

I liked this book, and am interested in trying more from the Colton 911 series, or from the Romantic Suspense line in the future. If you love category romance and/or romantic suspense, you should check this out! 

Author Bio

Deborah Fletcher Mello has been writing since forever and can’t imagine herself doing anything else. Her first romance novel, Take Me to Heart, earned her a 2004 Romance Slam Jam nomination for Best New Author, and in 2009, she won an RT Reviewer’s Choice Award for her ninth novel, Tame a Wild Stallion. Born and raised in Connecticut, Deborah now considers home to be wherever the moment moves her.

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Review of “The Redemption of a Rogue” (The Duke’s By-Blows #4) by Jess Michaels

Michaels, Jess. The Redemption of a Rogue. Dallas: The Passionate Pen, LLC, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1947770386 | $4.99 USD | 246 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

Imogen Huxley was already questioning her decision to seek out a lover at a notorious brothel, but never more so than after she witnesses a murder! She flees for her life and runs right into the arms of Oscar Fitzhugh, a mysterious club owner. She has no choice but to take his offer of protection while he tries to save her life. The passion that comes with that protection is just a bonus.

Oscar Fitzhugh was at the brothel investigating the death of his former mistress. He’s one of the infamous by-blows of the Duke of Roseford, but he cut himself off from that life long ago. Now he lives his life, trying desperately to keep everyone around him at arm’s length. But Imogen is too intriguing not to protect and seduce.

Danger is at every turn, pleasure in each touch. But as they circle ever closer to a future that could be everything they’ve ever needed, the murderer looking for Imogen is also coming nearer. If he finds them, all will be lost.

In the series

#1 The Love of a Libertine

#2 The Heart of a Hellion

#3 The Matter of a Marquess

Review

3 stars

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

The Redemption of a Rogue is unfortunately my least favorite of the Duke’s By-Blows series. I do blame myself in part, as some of my issues were suggested by the blurb, but even so, the extent of it was not as I expected, even keeping that in mind. I’m not opposed to the setup of a woman seeking a lover, not even in a sex club. I’m not opposed to a man (or anyone, really) taking part in the running of a sex club. I’m not opposed to some good consensual kink. But I still felt something was missing to bring it all together. 

The characters are fine. Imogen in particular is fairly likable, striking that perfect balance between damsel in distress and sassy, independent woman. I found Oscar a bit too closed-off, and while I could empathize with his reasons for it, it just led to more issues I had with it by the end, and I never felt like he fully opened up in a way I found believable (although his bond with his mother is lovely). 

This book is obviously very sexy, and if that’s your cuppa, that’s great. But I didn’t feel a ton of emotional development, so at the black moment, when she feels more, and he’s like, “It’s just sex,” I 100% believed him and didn’t feel like he was holding anything back, making the speedy 180 he does toward marital bliss at the end bit awkward. I understand the high stakes escalating things, but I feel like the sexiness was more arbitrary, and less about conveying the transition to passionate, HEA-worthy undying love.

While not my favorite from the author, I still think this a fun read, especially in continuing the world Michaels has created. And if you love super-hot, melt-your-clothes-off historical romances, maybe this one will be more of a winner for you. 

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Review of “Her Virgin Duke” by Nicola Davidson (From “Have Yourself a Merry Little Scandal”

Davidson, Nicola. “Her Virgin Duke.” Have Yourself a Merry Little Scandal, Historical Harlots Press, 2020.

Blurb

Nicknamed Humdrum Tun by society, Bennett Innsworth, Duke of Tunbury is stuffy, awkward, and alas, still a virgin. The festive season is looking bleak—until he loses a wager and must spend an evening at London’s most hedonistic pleasure club.

Delilah Forbes had long reigned as the city’s Mistress of Sin, and when the infamous duke visits her club she’s soon eager to introduce him to sizzling passion.

But even as lust becomes more for two lonely souls, they know a duke and a madam can’t have forever after. Or can they?

Review

I received an ARC of this novella from the author in exchange for a fair review.

4.5 stars

Her Virgin Duke is an utterly charming, sexy holiday delight. And having heard Nicola Davidson hype it on Twitter as she was working on it earlier this year, I have to say it definitely lives up to the hype. Bennett is my favorite type of duke, a virgin, and seeing him come undone for pleasure club madam Delilah is wonderful. If you’re looking for something overly substantive, you won’t find it, but Davidson does balance the hot moments with the more emotionally intimate in a way that still makes the story satisfying. If you happen to be looking for a hot holiday historical read, definitely check this one out! 

Author Bio

NICOLA DAVIDSON worked for many years in communications and marketing as well as television and print journalism, but hasn’t looked back since she decided writing wicked historical romance was infinitely more fun. When not chained to a computer she can be found ambling along one of New Zealand’s beautiful beaches, cheering on the All Blacks rugby team, history geeking on the internet or daydreaming. If this includes chocolate – even better!
Keep up with Nicola’s news on Twitter (@NicolaMDavidson) Facebook (Nicola Davidson – Author) or her website www.nicola-davidson.com

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Review of “Prospects of a Woman” by Wendy Voorsanger

Voorsanger, Wendy. Prospects of a Woman. Berkley, CA: She Writes, Press, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-16315277814 | $16.95 USD | 353 pages | Historical Fiction

Blurb

Elisabeth Parker comes to California from Massachusetts in 1849 with her new husband, Nate, to reunite with her father, who’s struck gold on the American River. But she soon realizes her husband is not the man she thought—and neither is her father, who abandons them shortly after they arrive. As Nate struggles with his sexuality, Elisabeth is forced to confront her preconceived notions of family, love, and opportunity. She finds comfort in corresponding with her childhood friend back home, writer Louisa May Alcott, and spending time in the company of a mysterious California. Armed with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance, she sets out to determine her role in building the West, even as she comes to terms with the sacrifices she must make to achieve independence and happiness. A gripping and illuminating window into life in the Old West, Prospects of a Woman is the story of one woman’s passionate quest to carve out a place for herself in the liberal and bewildering society that emerged during the California gold rush frenzy.

Review

4 stars

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

I didn’t learn much beyond the basics about the California Gold Rush, so I was intrigued by Prospects of a Woman and how it tied into the women’s experience during that event and dealing with the limitations placed on her in society in general.

Voorsanger really seems to know her stuff, as her prose engrossed me in the time period. I like how she was able to illustrate the contrast between the more reserved, traditional expectations of women in Boston and the whole new world of options that opened up for women like Elisabeth out West, like having her own business and being able to divorce her husband. And while she’s not always the most likable protagonist, she is believable for the time period and the story. 

I also really enjoyed Elisabeth’s relationship with Louisa May Alcott, and while I would have liked her to have gotten some page time or at least seen her responses to Elisabeth’s letters, I still enjoyed that sense of seeing Elisabeth have a more personal connection with someone we know today as a famous author, especially set in a time prior to her writing Little Women. 

This is a great book highlighting a woman finding a way to thrive in a man’s world, and a great testament to how far we’ve come. If you love historical fiction, I think you’ll enjoy this one. 

Author Bio

Born and raised on the American River in Sacramento, Wendy Voorsanger has long held an intense interest in the historical women of California. She started her career in the Silicon Valley, writing about technology trends and innovations for newspapers, magazines, and Fortune 100 companies. She currently manages SheIsCalifornia.com, a blog dedicated to chronicling the accomplishments of California women through history. She earned a BA in journalism from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and has attended Hedgebrook, the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop, and Lit Camp. She is a member of the Castro Writers’ Cooperative, the Lit Camp Advisory Board, and the San Mateo Public Library Literary Society. She has also worked as a lifeguard, ski instructor, and radio disc jockey. Wendy lives in Northern California with her husband and two boys. Learn more at www.wendyvoorsanger.net

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Review of “The Raven Lady” (The Faery Rehistory #2) by Sharon Lynn Fisher

Fisher, Sharon Lynn. The Raven Lady. Ashland, OR: Blackstone Publishing, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1982572792 | $15.99 USD | 320 pages | Fantasy Romance

Blurb

The fairy court is restored. Who will win the game of crowns?

In the aftermath of Ireland’s battle with her ancient enemies, Queen Isolde orders her cousin, smuggler Duncan O’Malley, to assume the throne of fairy as King Finvara. He’s a fish out of water when it comes to nurturing the alliance between Ireland’s mortal and fairy peoples. And the queen wants him to wed the daughter of Ireland’s enemy, the king of Icelandic shadow elves, to help keep the peace. But the Irish think of the elves as goblins, and Finvara refuses. 

Elven princess Koli, affronted by the king’s rejection—along with his decision to bring her to court as little more than a captive—vows vengeance. Shortly after her arrival, she uncovers a plot that would bring swift satisfaction. A dark and powerful fairy lord, Far Dorocha, wants to take Finvara’s crown and lead both the fairy and elven people to war against the Irish. And he wants Koli to help him.

It’s the perfect setup for revenge, but Koli soon discovers that Finvara’s not the haughty lord she believed him to be. And as she navigates treacherous waters inside the court, she gets glimpses of the magic and passion that have been slumbering inside her. She must choose a side in the new battle for Ireland—will it be the fearsome father she has served for nearly a century, or the fairy king who has helped awaken her to herself?

In the series 

#1 The Absinthe Earl 

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 requested The Raven Lady prior to learning it was part of a series, and while I have since acquired the first book, I didn’t have time to read it beforehand. However, this book works fairly well as a stand-alone, even noting that the prior book will serve to fill in background details about the world and past events, but giving the reader enough that this could serve as a suitable starting point on its own.

I did feel at times it did feel a little too info-dump-y, giving you a lot of information early on and throwing it at you, while expecting you to follow along. The issue waned as I got into the book, but I did struggle a bit at first. 

However, once you get past that first hurdle, it’s pretty much unputdownable. It has that blend of semi-historical and fantasy, and the world building, steeped in myth and legend is truly compelling. 

While first person dual remains my least favorite POV type, this story makes it work, easily distinguishing Koli and Finvara as characters, both of whom are caught up in chaos and end up falling in love in the midst of it. 

This book is so much fun, and I will definitely be reading more from this author. And if you love historical/paranormal mash-ups (including steampunk, mannerpunk, and gaslamp fantasy), I think you’ll enjoy this one.

Author Bio

Sharon Lynn Fisher is the author of sci-fi romance, erotic fairy tales, and, most recently, the historical fantasy trilogy The Faery Rehistory, including the first title in the series, The Absinthe Earl. She lives where it rains nine months of the year and is mom to two lovely tweens, two huge dogs, two ridiculous goats, an orange cat and orange mare, and a fluctuating number of poultry.

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Review of “One Night With a Duke” (12 Dukes of Christmas #10) by Erica Ridley

Ridley, Erica. One Night with a Duke. [Place of publication not identified]: WebMotion, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1943794706 | $3.99 USD | 178 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

From a New York Times bestselling author: Sparks fly in this definitely-not-falling-in-love workplace romance between a handsome drifter chasing adventure, and a small-town jeweler who would never leave her home behind…

Dashing Scot Jonathan MacLean never returns to the same town twice. The happy-go-lucky philanthropist seeks constant adventure… and is desperate to outrun his past. When a blizzard traps him in a tiny mountaintop village, he meets a woman who tempts him with dreams he’d long since abandoned: Home. Community. Love. But other people’s livelihoods depend on him leaving for good as soon as the snow melts.

No-nonsense jeweler Angelica Parker has spent her life fighting for recognition. She’s Black, she’s a woman, and she will prove her creations are the equal to any artisan in England. With the project of a lifetime on the line, there’s no room for error—or distractions. Especially not the handsome charmer whose unquenchable cheer and melting kisses have become more precious than jewels…

The 12 Dukes of Christmas is a series of heartwarming Regency romps nestled in a picturesque snow-covered village. Twelve delightful romances… and plenty of delicious dukes!

In the series

#1 Once Upon a Duke

#2 Kiss of a Duke 

#3 Wish Upon a Duke

#4 Never Say Duke

#5 Dukes, Actually

#6 The Duke’s Bride

#7 The Duke’s Embrace

#8 The Duke’s Desire

#9 Dawn with a Duke

Review

4.5 stars

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

After reading the previous installment in the series, I was excited for One Night with a Duke, with the hero being introduced in that book. As a result, while I felt the previous book could serve as a good stand-alone/starting point, I do feel this one is best read after reading that one. 

Jonathan is an interesting hero, and having seen him as a secondary character in the previous book as Calvin’s business partner, it’s great to see him get his own story and development, particularly as he spends much of the narrative being so work-centric, until he meets Angelica and she has the potential to offer him something more.

I really liked Angelica’s character as a successful Black businesswoman in Regency London, while we never see her experience it directly, I like that Ridley did not shy away from depicting it, and making her character well-rounded. There are so many non-ownvoices portrayals of Black people (and other POC) in fiction that have been done wrong, but Ridley clearly had compassion for the Black people, as well as an awareness of the true extent of their lives in during the Regency era, which varied wildly from servant to aristocrat and everything in between.

This is another heartwarming entry in Erica Ridley’s 12 Dukes, and I can’t wait to see what’s next. If you love Regency romance but haven’t read Erica Ridley, this series is a great place to start: short, sweet, and full of holiday cheer! 

Author Bio

Erica Ridley is a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of of witty, feel-good historical romance novels, including the upcoming THE DUKE HEIST, featuring the Wild Wynchesters. Why seduce a duke the normal way, when you can accidentally kidnap one in an elaborately planned heist?

In the 12 Dukes of Christmas series, enjoy witty, heartwarming Regency romps nestled in a picturesque snow-covered village. After all, nothing heats up a winter night quite like finding oneself in the arms of a duke!

Two popular series, the Dukes of War and Rogues to Riches, feature roguish peers and dashing war heroes who find love amongst the splendor and madness of Regency England.

When not reading or writing romances, Erica can be found riding camels in Africa, zip-lining through rainforests in Costa Rica, or getting hopelessly lost in the middle of Budapest.

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Review of “The Once and Future Witches” by Alix E. Harrow

Harrow, Alix E. The Once and Future Witches. New York: Redhook Books/Orbit, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-0316422048 | $28.00 USD | 528 pages | Historical Fantasy

Blurb

In the late 1800s, three sisters use witchcraft to change the course of history in a Hugo award-winning author’s powerful novel of magic amid the suffragette movement.In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.
But when the Eastwood sisters — James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna — join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote — and perhaps not even to live — the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.
There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.

Review

4 stars

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

The Once and Future Witches sounded like such a delightful book, mixing the historical with the magical to create a fun, feminist tale of suffragette witches. And while it is somewhat flawed, it did more or less meet all my expectations.

I love magic-lore in stories, and the fact that this book contains this in spades without bogging the story down is a major plus. I love the allusions to fairy tales (including some loose retellings of popular tales in-text), fun twists on real-world references to folklore like the Grimms, and the way familiar witchy  and other magical sayings we’re familiar with were incorporated into the incantations that make up the epigraphs that begin each chapter. It really helps to form the backbone for the forgotten knowledge that the Eastwood sisters are bringing back. 

I also liked how it tied in with the story of the sisters, and their general arcs of fighting back against the patriarchy. Each sister takes on one of the signature archetypes of Mother, Maiden, and Crone, but also subverts it, so they are not just that, and are each well-rounded people.

I did feel like the book was a bit too long at times, so there were bits that didn’t always hold my attention. However, it was more or less a solid read.

If you love historicals with a dash (or more) of magic, or are looking for books that explore feminism in a historical and magical context, I think you will enjoy this book. 

Author Bio

I’ve been a student and a teacher, a farm-worker and a cashier, an ice-cream-scooper and a 9-to-5 office-dweller. I’ve lived in tents and cars, cramped city apartments and lonely cabins, and spent a summer in a really sweet ’79 VW Vanagon Westfalia. I have library cards in at least five states.

Now I’m a full-time writer living in with my husband and two semi-feral kids in Berea, Kentucky. It is, I’m very sure, the best of all possible worlds.

My writing is represented by Kate McKean at Howard Morhaim Literary Agency.

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Review of “The Light at Wyndcliff” (The Cornwall Novels #3) by Sarah E. Ladd

Ladd, Sarah E. The Light at Wyndcliff. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-0785223276 | $15.99 USD | 320 pages | Regency Romance/Christian Fiction

Blurb

Set in 1820s Cornwall, this Regency romance evokes the captivating worlds and delicious dramas of Jane Austen, Daphne DuMaurier, and Winston Graham.

Raised on the sprawling and rugged Wyndcliff Estate near the dangerous coast of South Cornwall, Evelyn Bray lives with her grandfather, a once-wealthy man reduced to the post of steward. Evelyn is still grieving her father’s death and her mother’s abandonment when a passing ship is dashed against the rocks. The only survivors, a little girl and her injured mother, are rescued and brought to Wyndcliff Hall.

Liam Twethewey is just twenty-two when he inherits Wyndcliff Estate from his great uncle. His optimistic plans to open a china clay pit to employ the estate’s tenants meets unexpected resistance, and the rumors of smuggling and illegal activity challenge his new-found authority. Though wise beyond his years, young Liam quickly finds himself out of his depth in this land where long-held secrets and high-stakes agendas make no room for newcomers.

Brought together by troubling questions surrounding the shipwreck, Evelyn and Liam uncover even darker mysteries shrouding the estate. But as they untangle truths from deceptions, their loyalties separate them—and their budding love might not be strong enough to overcome the distance.

In the series

#1 The Governess of Penwythe Hall 

#2 The Thief of Lanwyn Manor 

Review

4 stars 

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

The Light at Wyndcliff is the third of Sarah E. Ladd’s “Cornwall Novels,” but like all her series books, it works well as a stand-alone, while keeping it within the same family the other books have followed. And like the first two books, the book is atmospheric, and Ladd has grown more comfortable in this setting, making it her own and being able to add distinguishing features that set it apart from the other Cornwall-set books, which I could not say when she first started the series and it felt too similar to other works. 

I found Evelyn particularly engaging, as many of her heroines are. Her background is one of loss of status and the resulting shame, especially when her mother leaves as a result. She holds out hope her mother will return, and there is this conflict within her about what path she should take in that case.

Liam is equally great in also  being a balance of principled, yet conflicted. He has a great sense of integrity, especially considering he is still fairly young and many men his age are still young and figuring things out. His decisions aren’t always well-received, but he always tries to do what is right, and I appreciate that. 

The mystery of the shipwrecks was compelling and kept me engaged throughout. While it’s not the most compelling mystery plot I’ve read in a Sarah Ladd novel, it did contribute to the dark, semi-Gothic atmosphere that makes this a great fall read.

I enjoyed this one the most out of the series thus far. It’s evocative with a charming romance between relatable characters. If you’re looking for a sweet historical romance with a touch of the Gothic, I definitely recommend this one. 

Author Bio

Sarah E. Ladd has always loved the Regency period — the clothes, the music, the literature and the art. A college trip to England and Scotland confirmed her interest in the time period and gave her idea of what life would’ve looked like in era. It wasn’t until 2010 that Ladd began writing seriously. Shortly after, Ladd released the first book in the Whispers on the Moors series. Book one of the series, The Heiress of Winterwood, was the recipient of the 2011 ACFW Genesis Award for historical romance. Ladd also has more than ten years of marketing experience. She holds degrees in public relations and marketing and lives in Indiana with her family and spunky Golden Retriever.

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Review of “The Royal Governess” by Wendy Holden

Holden, Wendy. The Royal Governess. New York: Berkley, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0593101322 | $26.00 USD | 432 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb

Sunday Times bestselling author Wendy Holden brings to life the unknown childhood years of one of the world’s most iconic figures, Queen Elizabeth II, and reveals the little-known governess who made Britain’s queen into the monarch we know today.

In 1933, twenty-two-year-old Marion Crawford accepts the role of a lifetime, tutoring their Royal Highnesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Her one stipulation to their parents the Duke and Duchess of York is that she bring some doses of normalcy into the sheltered and privileged lives of the two young princesses.

At Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and Balmoral, Marion defies oppressive court protocol to take the girls on tube trains, swimming at public baths, and on joyful Christmas shopping trips at Woolworth’s. From her ringside seat at the heart of the British monarchy she witnesses the upheaval of the Abdication and the glamour and drama of the 1937 Coronation.

During the war, as Hitler’s Heinkels fly over Windsor, she shelters her charges in the castle dungeons (not far from where the Crown Jewels are hidden in a biscuit tin). Afterwards, she is there when Elizabeth first sets eyes on Philip. But being beloved governess and confidante to the Windsor family has come at a cost. She puts her private life on hold until released from royal service following Princess Elizabeth’s marriage in 1947.

In a majestic story of love, sacrifice, and allegiance, bestselling novelist Holden shines a captivating light into the years before Queen Elizabeth II took the throne, as immortalized on the popular television series The Crown.

Review 

5 stars

I love the sudden plethora of Windsor historical fiction, inspired by the popularity of The Crown, as it seemed before like no one wanted to attempt a depiction of the current Queen or her parents, because she and many who knew them were still living. And while I thought I knew quite a bit about Queen Elizabeth II’s life, I somehow overlooked the very fascinating story of her governess, Marion Crawford, and am glad The Royal Governess brought her to light, highlighting the real person she likely was beyond her primary claim to fame of writing a book about the Royals behind their back. 

Much has been made of the rigid educations of prior generations of British royalty (such as that of the eventual George V and his “wastrel” brother, Prince Albert Victor, in which the latter was said to be a “failure”), so I liked how the book highlighted Marion’s work with Elizabeth and Margaret as a contrast to the strictness of the past and how Marion, coming from a very different background of other teachers, defied convention. She took the girls out in public, on the train and shopping at Woolworth’s, ensuring they had a sense of normalcy.

And she was way more than a servant during her tenure, being privy to a lot of the goings-on of the household, from something on a large scale like the change in status of her charges when Edward VIII chose to abdicate, to the subtle development of Elizabeth and Margaret into young women, with hints of their romantic futures, especially as she bears witness to Elizabeth’s first meeting with Philip and the growth of their relationship over the years.

With all that in mind, I also like how Holden approaches the memoir Marion wrote, and how, while the Royal Family were understandably hurt and cut her off, she likely wasn’t in a good place and was possibly manipulated into doing it by someone who wanted to take advantage of her connections, who ultimately left her in the end anyway. 

This is a wonderful book telling another side to the story of Queen Elizabeth II, one of the woman who raised and educated her. If you’re a lover of Royal historical fiction, you don’t want to miss this one! 

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Review of “The Midnight Bargain” by C.L. Polk

Polk, C.L. The Midnight Bargain. New York: Erewhon Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1645660071 | $25.95 USD | 384 pages | Fantasy 

Blurb

From the beloved World Fantasy Award-winning author of Witchmark comes a sweeping, romantic new fantasy set in a world reminiscent of Regency England, where women’s magic is taken from them when they marry. A sorceress must balance her desire to become the first great female magician against her duty to her family.

Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar that will cut off her powers to protect her unborn children. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged Magus and pursuing magic as her calling as men do, but her family has staked everything to equip her for Bargaining Season, when young men and women of means descend upon the city to negotiate the best marriages. The Clayborns are in severe debt, and only she can save them, by securing an advantageous match before their creditors come calling. 

In a stroke of luck, Beatrice finds a grimoire that contains the key to becoming a Magus, but before she can purchase it, a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help her get it back, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss . . . with her adversary’s brother, the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan. 

The more Beatrice is entangled with the Lavan siblings, the harder her decision becomes: If she casts the spell to become a Magus, she will devastate her family and lose the only man to ever see her for who she is; but if she marries—even for love—she will sacrifice her magic, her identity, and her dreams. But how can she choose just one, knowing she will forever regret the path not taken?

Review

4 stars

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

The Midnight Bargain is a standalone side project from CL Polk, but shares some of the similar elements of her writing with her ongoing Kingston Cycle, namely a charming mix of period drama flavor and fantasy magic, with this one feeling like an homage to Austen-esque Regency tales, joining the likes of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and the works of Zen Cho in their magic-infused takes on the time period. 

While there isn’t a lot of complex world building, I like how the story utilizes the patriarchal elements of real life history as a basis for magic, and have the story center a woman fighting back, in a similar way her literary sisters in non-magical  Regencies have, resulting in an engaging story and fairly unique take on a tried-and-true concept. 

I loved that Beatrice taught herself magic, in spite of it not being allowed to her, and she did it for a noble reason of wanting to be the one to provide, while her parents were determined to see her follow convention.

And there are some other lovely characters too, like the Lavans. She forms a romance with Ianthe, who I found fairly likable, although the relationship is very insta-love-y. His sister Ysbeta is also a great character I’d like to see more of if Polk were to write more within this world. However, the most charming was the spirit character, Nadi, conjured by Beatrice, especially for her fun and witty dialogue! 

This is a wonderful gem of a book, and, as much as I’ve liked her Kingston Cycle, I hope this isn’t the last book of this style Polk writes. And if you’ve liked her previous work and are curious to try something else from her, or are new to her work, but love both Regency romance and magic, I think you’ll enjoy this book. 

Author Bio

C. L. Polk (she/her/they/them) is the author of the World Fantasy Award winning debut novel Witchmark, the first novel of the Kingston Cycle. Her newest novel, The Midnight Bargain, is upcoming in 2020 from Erehwon Books.

After leaving high school early, she has 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 silver fork fantasy novels.

Ms. 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. She rides a green bicycle with a basket on the front.

She drinks good coffee because life is too short. She spends too much time on twitter. You can subscribe to her free newsletter on Substack.

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

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