Review of “Dead Silence” by Robin Caroll

Caroll, Robin. Dead Silence. Uhrichville, OH: Shiloh Run Press, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1643523316 | $14.99 USD | 320 pages | Christian Fiction/Mystery/Thriller

Blurb

Political games can be deadly…
 
Elise Carmichael is a court sign language interpreter who reads lips all the time. As a widow with a young son who is deaf, lip reading is simply second nature, until the day she reads the lips of someone on the phone discussing an attempt to be made on a senator’s life—a senator who just happens to be her mother-in-law. Before she can decide what she needs to do, she receives the information that her son is rushed to the ER and she must leave. Then she later sees the news report that her mother-in-law has been shot and killed. But when she comes forward, her life, as well as her son’s life, may now be in the crosshairs of the assassin.

Review

3 stars

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

I’m not sure how to feel about Dead Silence…it’s objectively a good book, but it didn’t engage me as much as I hoped upon initially reading the premise. 

I did like Elise and felt her character delivered on what was promised. I liked her concern for her son, and how her skill with reading lips fed into the plot. And there’s a beautiful moment with her late husband’s Bible that I found particularly touching. 

But my investment with the mystery element flagged, due to it being slow moving and the choice of repetitive telling vs. showing killing the suspense. Ultimately, the reveal didn’t feel earned. 

While I didn’t love this, I think it’s an “it’s not you, it’s me” thing, especially since I’ve fallen into a bit of a slump following the gloriousness of a previous read. I think if you’re a Christian fiction reader, and happen to like mysteries, it might still be worth trying. 

Author Bio 

Robin Caroll grew up in Louisiana with her nose in a book. She still has the complete Trixie Belden series, and her love for mysteries and suspense has only increased with her age.

Robin’s passion has always been to tell stories to entertain others and come alongside them on their faith journey—aspects Robin weaves into each of her published novels.

Best-selling author of thirty-plus novels, ROBIN CAROLL writes Southern stories of mystery and suspense, with a hint of romance to entertain readers. Her books have been recognized in several awards, including the Carol Award, HOLT Medallion, Daphne du Maurier, RT Reviewer’s Choice Award, and more.

When she isn’t writing, Robin spends quality time with her husband of nearly three decades, her three beautiful daughters and two handsome grandsons, and their character-filled pets at home in the South.

Robin serves the writing community as Executive/Conference Director for ACFW.

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Review of “The Joyce Girl” by Annabel Abbs

Abbs, Annabel. The Joyce Girl. 2016. New York: William Morrow, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-0062912879 | $16.99 USD | 480 pages | Historical Romance 

Blurb

For readers who adored novels like The Paris WifeZ, and Loving Frank, comes Annabel Abbs highly praised debut novel, where she spins the story of James Joyce’s fascinating, and tragic, daughter, Lucia. 

“When she reaches her full capacity for rhythmic dancing, James Joyce may yet be known as his daughter’s father . . .”

The review in the Paris Times in November 1928 is rapturous in its praise of Lucia Joyce’s skill and artistry as a dancer. The family has made their home in Paris—where the latest ideas in art, music, and literature converge. Acolytes regularly visit the Joyce apartment to pay homage to Ireland’s exiled literary genius. Among them is a tall, thin young man named Samuel Beckett—a fellow Irish expat who idolizes Joyce and with whom Lucia becomes romantically involved. 

Lucia is both gifted and motivated, training tirelessly with some of the finest teachers in the world. Though her father delights in his daughter’s talent, she clashes with her mother, Nora. And as her relationship with Beckett sours, Lucia’s dreams unravel, as does her hope of a life beyond her father’s shadow. 

With Lucia’s behavior growing increasingly erratic, James Joyce sends her to pioneering psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Here, at last, she will tell her own story—a fascinating, heartbreaking account of thwarted ambition, passionate creativity, and the power of love to both inspire and destroy. 

The Joyce Girl creates a compelling and moving account of the real-life Joyce Girl, of thwarted ambition and rejection, and of the destructive love of a father. 

Review

5 stars 

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

I’ve never read James Joyce, so I didn’t know much about him or his family going into The Joyce Girl, but I was intrigued to know more, especially since the blurb hinted at Lucia’s “tragic” life and the dysfunctional relationship she has with her father. 

This book is absolutely beautiful, often in a haunting way. Lucia is so full of life and promise, but I love the way her demons are foreshadowed until things break down and she’s finally institutionalized. And having the earlier years juxtaposed against her therapy sessions with Carl Jung further helped to illustrate this. 

Abbs admits that the book is heavily fictionalized, due to gaps in the historical record created due to the people involved destroying records, so I understand why some people might not be into it, if they value strict accuracy, but I think fiction is the only place one can safely speculate about some of these topics, as long as readers don’t take it as gospel and the authors are upfront about what they changed. 

I loved this book, and I will certainly be thinking about it for a while, and do further reading into Lucia. I recommend this to anyone looking for deeply thought provoking historical fiction. 

Author Bio 

Annabel Abbs grew up in Wales and Sussex, with stints in Dorset, Bristol and Hereford. She has a degree in English Literature from the University of East Anglia and a Masters from the University of Kingston. She lives with her family  in London and Sussex. Her debut novel, The Joyce Girl, won the 2015 Impress Prize for New Writing and the 2015 Spotlight First Novel Award, and was longlisted for the 2015 Caledonia Novel Award, the 2015 Bath Novel Award and the 2016 Waverton Good Read Award. It was a Reader Pick in The Guardian 2016 and was one of ten books selected for presentation at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival.  It was published by Impress in the UK, Hachette in Australia/NZ, Aufbau Verlag in Germany, Galaxia Gutenberg in Spain, Hep Kitap in Turkey, with translations to follow in Bulgaria, Russia and Poland. In 2018 it was acquired by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, in the United States. It is currently being adapted for the stage.

Her second novel, Frieda, was one of five novels selected for presentation to film directors at the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair. It was published in September 2018 in Australia and New Zealand by Hachette and in November 2018 in the UK by Two Roads, an imprint of John Murray Press. It has sold in several countries including Italy, Turkey and Hungary. In December 2018 it was declared a Times Book of the Year, as well as being reviewed in The ObserverDaily MailThe GuardianThe Lady, Red, Good Housekeeping and Stylist (see Reviews section). Annabel was also invited onto BBC Woman’s Hour to discuss Frieda.

She has recently completed her third novel, the story of Eliza Acton, Britain’s first domestic goddess, and a best-selling cookery book writer (as well as a poet) in the early Victorian period. Her first non-fiction book, The Age-Well Project, will be published by Little, Brown in 2019, co-written with TV producer, Susan Crook Saunders, and based on their acclaimed blog agewellproject.com, recently longlisted for the 2018 UK Blog Award. Annabel’s short stories and journalism have appeared in various places including  The Guardian, Tatler, The Irish Times, Weekend Australian Review, Elle, Sydney Morning Post, The Author, The Daily Telegraph, Psychologies Magazine, Mslexia and the Huffington Post. She has been profiled in Writing Magazine, Sussex Life, Next NZ, Litro and Female First and speaks regularly at literary festivals. She sponsors a scholarship/bursary for a mature student on the UEA Creative Writing MA. Find out more here.

Annabel tweets (sporadically) on books, writing and the arts at @annabelabbs.

If you want to get in touch with Annabel, please email Zeitgeist Media here. Hear Annabel discussing Frieda with Jenni Murray on BBC Woman’s Hour here.

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Review of “Conventionally Yours” (True Colors #1) by Annabeth Albert

Albert, Annabeth. Conventionally Yours. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1728200293 | $14.99 USD | 384 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb

When two “big name fans” go head-to-head at a convention, love isn’t the only thing at stake.

Charming, charismatic, and effortlessly popular, Conrad Stewart seems to have it all…but in reality, he’s scrambling to keep his life from tumbling out of control.

Brilliant, guarded, and endlessly driven, Alden Roth may as well be the poster boy for perfection…but even he can’t help but feel a little broken inside.

When these mortal enemies are stuck together on a cross-country road trip to the biggest fan convention of their lives, their infamous rivalry takes a backseat as an unexpected connection is forged. Yet each has a reason why they have to win the upcoming Odyssey gaming tournament and neither is willing to let emotion get in the way―even if it means giving up their one chance at something truly magical.

Review

4 stars

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

Conventionally Yours is my first book by Annabeth Albert, and it won’t be the last. This book is a charming road-trip romance between unlikely lovers that also isn’t afraid to tackle some of the issues faced by LGBTQ+ and neurodiverse people, especially those just coming of age and figuring out what they want to do.

I liked both Conrad and Alden, and how their rivalry never felt over the top, leading to a realistic progression to love. I also like that the characters have nuance, discussing Conrad’s rejection by his parents due to his sexuality and how it led to him having to drop out of school because of the financial stuff, and Alden’s struggle post-college figuring out what to do with his life when his first choice didn’t pan out. And their coming to an understanding about these secret parts of each other, and how it led to more, was really sweet. 

The main premise revolves around gaming, so at times, I did feel a bit out of my depth, but enough of that phenomenon is conveyed to get the gist of it, even if it wasn’t necessarily my favorite part of the book. 

This was a fun book, and I can’t wait to read more from Albert going forward. I recommend this to lovers of LGBTQ+ romance and/or those interested in stories centered on gaming. 

Author Bio

Annabeth Albert grew up sneaking romance novels under the bed covers. Now, she devours all subgenres of romance out in the open—no flashlights required! When she’s not adding to her keeper shelf, she’s a multi-published Pacific Northwest romance writer.  She has penned many critically acclaimed and fan-favorite LGBTQ  romance series.  To find out what she’s working on next and other fun extras, be sure to join her reader group on Facebook! Also, be sure to sign up for her newsletter for free ficlets, bonus reads, and contests.

Emotionally complex, sexy, and funny stories are her favorites both to read and to write. Annabeth loves finding happy endings for a variety of pairings and particularly loves uncovering unique main characters. In her personal life, she works a rewarding day job and wrangles two active children. She’s a compulsive knitter, late night reader, obsessive gamer, and happy bi-pride flag waver.

Represented by Deidre Knight, The Knight Agency

Publicity assistance from A Novel Take PR 

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Review of “A Gilded Lady” (Hope and Glory #2) by Elizabeth Camden

Camden, Elizabeth. A Gilded Lady. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-0764232121 | $15.99 USD | 352 pages | Christian Fiction/Historical Romance

Blurb

Caroline Delacroix is at the pinnacle of Washington high society in her role as secretary to the first lady of the United States. But beneath the facade of her beauty, glamorous wardrobe, and dazzling personality, she’s hiding a terrible secret. If she cannot untangle a web of foreign espionage, her brother will face execution for treason.

Nathaniel Trask is the newly appointed head of the president’s Secret Service team. He is immediately suspicious of Caroline despite his overwhelming attraction to her quick wit and undeniable charm. Desperate to keep the president protected, Nathaniel must battle to keep his focus fully on his job as the threat to the president rises.

Amid the glamorous pageantry of Gilded Age Washington, DC, Caroline and Nathaniel will face adventure, danger, and heartbreak in a race against time that will span the continent and the depth of human emotion.

In the series 

#1 The Spice King 

Review 

5 stars

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

It’s been awhile since I picked up an Elizabeth Camden book, and A Gilded Lady is a great reminder of what U like about her work. While I did not read book one, I feel for the most part it does function as a stand-alone, although I do think it would have made the appearances of the recurring characters feel a bit more relevant. 

I love a story that writes about historical politics in an intimate way, and exploring the lives of President and Mrs. McKinley through the eyes of a Secret Service agent and the First Lady’s secretary was fascinating. And given that McKinley is one of the four presidents who was assassinated throughout US history (and the assassination is a plot point in the book), I like how this book explores the poltical tensions both at home and abroad, especially with mentions of other similar tragedies that were occurring at the time, as well as Camden’s note at the end about how the asdassination itself impacted Secret Service procedures going forward. 

Caroline is a compelling character. While I got the impression, both from other reviewers who read book one and the depiction of tension later in the book between her and Annabelle (heroine of book one), I felt that, beneath the charming facade, she had a good heart, especially with her focus on saving her brother. And her relationship with the moody Ida McKinley is a sweet one, with Caroline calming her in times of trouble. 

Her stubborn, yet charming nature makes for great interactions with Nathaniel, who is set in his ways and very by-the-book. Seeing them grow past their differences and learn from each other is incredibly rewarding. 

I very much enjoyed this book, and look forward both to catching up with book one and continuing with book three. If you love sweet/inspirational historical romance, I recommend this one highly. 

Author Bio 

Elizabeth Camden is a research librarian at a small college in central Florida. Her novels have won the coveted RITA and Christy Awards. She has published several articles for academic publications and is the author of four nonfiction history books. Her ongoing fascination with history and love of literature have led her to write inspirational fiction. Elizabeth lives with her husband near Orlando, Florida.

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Review of “A Dark and Stormy Knight” (Victorian Rebels #7) by “Kerrigan Byrne

Byrne, Kerrigan. A Dark and Stormy Knight. Suttons Bay, MI, Gnarly Wool Publishing, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1947204782 | $5.99 USD | 252 pages | Victorian Romance 

Blurb

This Knight of the Crown is driven by a painful past and a patient fury… and his entire life is a lie.

Sir Carlton Morley is famously possessed of extraordinary will, singular focus, and a merciless sense of justice. As a man, he secured his fortune and his preeminence as Scotland Yard’s ruthless Chief Inspector. As a decorated soldier, he was legend for his unflinching trigger finger, his precision in battle, and his imperturbable strength. But as a boy, he was someone else. A twin, a thief, and a murderer, until tragedy reshaped him.

Now he stalks the night, in search of redemption and retribution, vowing to never give into temptation, as it’s just another form of weakness.

Until temptation lands—quite literally—in his lap, taking the form of Prudence Goode.

Prim and proper Pru is expected to live a life of drudgery, but before she succumbs to her fate, she craves just one night of desire. On the night she searches for it, she stumbles upon a man made of shadows, muscle and wrath… And decides he is the one.

When their firestorm of passion burns out of control, Morley discovers, too late, that he was right. The tempting woman has become his weakness.

A weakness his enemies can use against him. 

In the series 

#1 The Highwayman

#2 The Hunter 

#3 The Highlander 

#4 The Duke 

#5 The Scot Beds His Wife 

#6 The Duke With the Dragon Tattoo

Review 

4 stars 

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

Despite my rough start with Kerrigan Byrne’s books, I’ve come to appreciate her willingness to explore the dark side in her books, even if I don’t always love her characters. But given her tendency toward the anti-hero, I was worried when I heard A Dark and Stormy Knight was Morley’s book, given I found him a welcome presence of moral uprightness in the midst of darker characters. 

But much as there is something to like, or at least sympathize with,  underneath the facade of most of the other Rebels (however reluctantly I admit it), Morley as a hero gets an edge that is consistent with the character we’ve come to know: dedicated to justice. In fact, I felt for him when I learned of the skeletons in his closet. 

However, I did feel like Prudence was a bit ordinary, only being fascinating due to the circumstances she finds herself in, an issue I feel is prominent with the Rebels and their heroines as a whole: the men are the bundles of issues, and the women are their source of stability, and as a reader who likes more complex heroines, especially after book one in Kerrigan’s other series, I found her a bit lacking.

However, speaking of the Rebels and the women, I did like the banter between the recurring characters. It’s especially funny how the fact that Farah and Morley once courted was handled. And while I can’t help but find it all absurd, I love how you get these little reminders of what the other men did to get with their women, when Carlton is in the thick of his predicament with Prudence. 

Byrne excels at weaving suspense into her books, and this one is no exception. I spent the whole book wondering who it could be, especially since there didn’t seem to be anyone who stuck out as obvious aside from Prudence. But when all was revealed, I was in shock, especially because of the way this character was presented as largely inconsequential initially.

While not my favorite of the series, I feel Byrne’s objective strengths are on display here, and any flaws I’ve noted are due to my personal preferences. If you’ve loved the series thus far, you won’t be disappointed with this one. 

Author Bio 

Kerrigan has done many things to pay the bills, from law enforcement to belly dance instructor. Now she’s finally able to have the career she’d decided upon at thirteen when she announced to her very skeptical family that she was going to “grow up to be a romance novelist.” Whether she’s writing about Celtic Druids, Victorian bad boys, or brash Irish FBI Agents, Kerrigan uses her borderline-obsessive passion for history, her extensive Celtic ancestry, and her love of Shakespeare in almost every story.

She lives in a little Victorian coast town on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State with her wonderful husband. When she’s not writing you can find her sailing, beach combing, kayaking, visiting wineries, breweries, and restaurants with friends, and hiking…okay…wandering aimlessly clenching bear spray in the mountains. 

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Review of “The Summer Deal” (Wildstone #5) by Jill Shalvis

Shalvis, Jill. The Summer Deal. New York: William Morrow, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0062897916 | $16.99 USD | 384 pages | Women’s Fiction 

Blurb

From New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis comes a friends-to-frenemies-to-sisters story… And then add in a love story (okay, two love stories). Shake. Stir. Read on a lazy summer day at the beach.

Brynn Turner desperately wishes she had it together, but her personal life is like a ping-pong match that’s left her scared and hurt after so many attempts to get it right. In search of a place to lick her wounds and get a fresh start, she heads back home to Wildstone.

And then there’s Kinsey Davis, who after battling serious health issues her entire twenty-nine years of life, is tired of hoping for . . . well, anything. She’s fierce, tough, and pretty much the opposite of Brynn except for one thing: they’re half-sisters. Kinsey is keeping this bombshell, and a few others as well. Long time frenemies from summer camp, there’s no way she’s going to tell Brynn they’re related.

But then Brynn runs into Kinsey’s lifelong best friend, Eli, renewing a childhood crush. He’s still easy-going and funny and sexy as hell. When he gets her to agree to a summer-time deal to trust him to do right by her, no matter what, she never dreams it’ll result in finding a piece of herself she didn’t even know was missing. She could have a sister, love, and a future―if she can only learn to let go of the past.

As the long days of summer wind down, the three of them must discover if forgiveness is enough to grasp the unconditional love that’s right in front of them.

In the series 

#1 Lost and Found Sisters 

#1.5 The Good Luck Sister

#2 Rainy Day Friends

#3 The Lemon Sisters 

#4 Almost Just Friends 

Review

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions are my own. 

While The Summer Deal is the fifth book in the Wildstone series, it works very well as a stand-alone, with the only identifiable overlapping feature with the previous book I read in the series being the setting of the small town of Wildstone. 

One thing I enjoyed about this book is that the characters feel real and flawed, to the point where you don’t always like them. It took me a while to warm up to Brynn, Kinsey, and Eli, but once I did, I could really relate to them and their lives. The way Brynn and Kinsey as secret half sisters go on their journey from hating each other to bonding with each other was particularly sweet, and while I didn’t know what to expect with Eli and thought the two women would have a bit more melodrama where he was concerned, I was pleasantly surprised at the direction it took. 

This is a great read about family being about more than blood ties. I recommend it to anyone who likes sweet contemporaries flawed, yet endearing characters. 

Author Bio

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

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Review of “Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey” by Abigail Wilson

Wilson, Abigail. Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0785233077 | $15.99 USD | 336 pages | Regency Romance/Historical Mystery/Christian Fiction 

Blurb

In this new Regency romance, a young unwed mother must protect her heart from the charms of her convenient new husband, Lord Torrington. She is not, however, prepared to protect her life.

When the widowed Lord Torrington agreed to spy for the crown, he never planned to impersonate a highwayman, let alone rob the wrong carriage. Stranded on the road with an unconscious young woman, he is forced to propose marriage to protect his identity and her reputation, as well as his dangerous mission.

Trapped not only by her duty to her country but also by her limited options as an unwed mother, Miss Elizabeth Cantrell and her infant son are whisked away to Middlecrest Abbey by none other than the elder brother of her son’s absent father. There she is met by Torrington’s beautiful grown daughters, a vicious murder, and an urgent hunt for the missing intelligence that could turn the war with France. Meanwhile she must convince everyone that her marriage is a genuine love match if her new husband has any hope of uncovering the enemy.

Determined to keep her son’s true identity a secret, Elizabeth will need to remain one step ahead of her fragile heart, her uncertain future, and the relentless fiend bent on her new family’s ruin.

Review

4.5 stars

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

Abigail Wilson continues her winning streak of historical mysteries with Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey. With a good eye for detail that captures the setting and the sense of danger, I was engrossed in the story and anticipating what would happen next. 

I enjoyed Elizabeth, especially the exploration of her challenges as an unwed mother and the benefits of the offer Lord Torrington makes, even if he is the brother of her son’s father. I anticipated some drama that would arise in that regard, and I was not disappointed, although I’m glad it wasn’t really in the romantic love-triangle vein, with the focus being on how Elizabeth grows to care for her new husband. 

With the colorful cast of characters, some of whom are antagonistic to Elizabeth and some outwardly friendly, it provided a compelling mystery, which kept me on my toes guessing until all was revealed. While one of the culprits was a bit cliche given some of the other plot elements, I still found it to be satisfying overall. 

This is another great book from an up-and-coming author who is fast becoming a favorite. If you love historical romances with a Gothic feel or a historical mystery, then I recommend this one highly. 

Author Bio 

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

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Review of “The Seaside Cafe” (The Book Club #1) by Rochelle Alers

Alers, Rochelle. The Seaside Cafe. New York: Dafina Books, 2020. 

ISBN-13; 978-1496721860 | $15.95 USD | 304 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

Set on breathtaking Coates Island, off the coast of North Carolina, bestselling author Rochelle Alers’ new series debut brings together three book-loving women whose summer will offer a chance to rewrite their own stories . . .

For three decades, the Seaside Café has served delicious meals to locals and island tourists alike. Kayana Johnson has moved home to help her brother run the café—and to nurse her wounds following a deep betrayal. Between cooking favorite recipes—creole chicken with buttermilk waffles, her grandmother’s famous mac and cheese—and spending time reading, Kayana is trying to embrace a life free of entanglements, while staying open to new connections . . .
 
After striking up conversation with two customers, Kayana suggests a summer book club. Each week, they’ll meet on the patio to talk about their favorite novels. But there are plot twists awaiting them in real life too. For schoolteacher Leah, this two-month sojourn is the first taste of freedom she’s had in her unhappy marriage. Cherie, filled with regret about her long-term affair with a married politician, discovers a powerful new passion. And Kayana finds a kindred spirit in a reclusive visitor who’s ready to make his true identity known, and fill this summer with new possibilities . . .
 

Review

4 stars

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

Rochelle Alers is yet another new-to-me author that came to my attention in my conscious effort to diversify my reading and prioritize more authors of color, and I was particularly intrigued by the book club theme for this upcoming release, The Seaside Cafe. The book itself puts equal focus on the second chance romance between Kayana and Graeme, and the book club aspect. 

I found Kayana and Graeme’s relationship really sweet, especially since both have dealt with heartbreak in their past. Kayana learning to trust again is a focal point, given the way her ex betrayed her, and I think this was well done.

While the book club starts off as a group of unlikely people coming together, and they do spend as much time bickering as they do talking about their chosen books, I found that aspect really fun, especially as it allowed them insights into each others’ lives. both Leah and Cherie also have woes when it comes to love, so seeing them bond over that is great, and I can’t wait to see how it develops in the next book. 

I really enjoyed this one, and look forward to trying more of Alers’ work in the future. I recommend this if you like sweet stories with equal emphasis on romance and friendship. 

Author Bio

Rochelle Alers was born in Manhattan, New York, USA, where she raised. She obtained degrees in Sociology and Psychology, before started to work. She is a member of the Iota Theta Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and her interests include gourmet cooking and traveling. She has traveled to countries in North, Central and South America, and Europe. She is also in accomplished in knitting, crocheting and needlepoint.

Published since 1988, today a full-time writer, has been hailed by readers and booksellers alike as one of today’s most prolific and popular African-American authors of romance and women’s fiction. With more than fifty titles and nearly two million copies of her novels in print, she is a regular on the Waldenbooks, Borders and Essence bestseller lists, regularly chosen by Black Expressions Book Club, and has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Gold Pen Award, the Emma Award, Vivian Stephens Award for Excellence in Romance Writing, the Romantic Times Career Achievement Award and the Zora Neale Hurston Literary Award. She also wrote as Susan James and Rena McLeary.

Rochelle Alers lives in a charming hamlet on Long Island.

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Review of “Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters” by Jennifer Chiaverini

Chiaverini, Jennifer. Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters. New York: William Morrow, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0062975973 | $28.99 USD | 352 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb

The New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker returns to her most famous heroine, Mary Todd Lincoln, in this compelling story of love, loss, and sisterhood rich with history and suspense.

In May 1875, Elizabeth Todd Edwards reels from news that her younger sister Mary, former First Lady and widow of President Abraham Lincoln, has attempted suicide. 

Mary’s shocking act followed legal proceedings arranged by her eldest and only surviving son that declared her legally insane. Although they have long been estranged, Elizabeth knows Mary’s tenuous mental health has deteriorated through decades of trauma and loss. Yet is her suicide attempt truly the impulse of a deranged mind, or the desperate act of a sane woman terrified to be committed to an asylum? And—if her sisters can put past grievances aside—is their love powerful enough to save her? 

Maternal Elizabeth, peacemaker Frances, envious Ann, and much adored Emilie had always turned to one another in times of joy and heartache, first as children, and later as young wives and mothers. But when Civil War erupted, the conflict that divided a nation shattered their family. The Todd sisters’s fates were bound to their husbands’ choices as some joined the Lincoln administration, others the Confederate Army.

Now, though discord and tragedy have strained their bonds, Elizabeth knows they must come together as sisters to help Mary in her most desperate hour. 

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 had previous heard about how the many losses Mary Todd Lincoln had experienced had taken a toll on her mental health, leading to contention between her surviving son, Robert, and herself. But I knew nothing about her own family, much less how they felt while all this was going on. Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters attempts to provide their perspectives, and I think it does a pretty good job. 

There are some great conflicts brought up, both in the 1870s arc surrounding the scandal concerning  Mary’s mental health and their growing concern of what to do, and the years leading up to it, highlighting their formative years, including glimpses of Mary’s marriage to Lincoln and road to the presidency. Differences in political beliefs also see the family divided on different sides of the war, which made the situation in the 1870s arc much more tense. 

However, given that the average reader is likely only getting to know Mary’s large family through this book (unless they’ve read extensively on the topic prior), and the fact that the sisters are less prominent in historical records, I found their perspectives all ran together, with it being easy to forget whose perspective it was meant to be. And even the facts at the end about their families and their own death dates meant little, because they are only important to most people in relation to Mary.

But I don’t think it’s entirely a failing of the book. Even thought we only get let into her head at the end, Mary is the central character of the story and the one driving things forward, as well as why most people would have picked up the book to begin with. And Chiaverini has written several other books about Mary that I’m eager to pick up as well. So, if you enjoyed those or just happen to be looking for a new story about Mary Todd Lincoln, I recommend this one. 

Author Bio

Jennifer Chiaverini is the New York Times bestselling author of several acclaimed historical novels and the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as six collections of quilt patterns inspired by her books. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin. About her historical fiction, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes, “In addition to simply being fascinating stories, these novels go a long way in capturing the texture of life for women, rich and poor, black and white, in those perilous years.”

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Review of “Recipe for Persuasion” (The Rajes #2) by Sonali Dev

Dev, Sonali. Recipe for Persuasion. New York: William Morrow, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0062839077 | $15.99 USD | 464 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb

From the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors comes another , clever, deeply layered, and heartwarming romantic comedy that follows in the Jane Austen tradition—this time, with a twist on Persuasion.

Chef Ashna Raje desperately needs a new strategy. How else can she save her beloved restaurant and prove to her estranged, overachieving mother that she isn’t a complete screw up? When she’s asked to join the cast of Cooking with the Stars, the latest hit reality show teaming chefs with celebrities, it seems like just the leap of faith she needs to put her restaurant back on the map. She’s a chef, what’s the worst that could happen? 

Rico Silva, that’s what.  

Being paired with a celebrity who was her first love, the man who ghosted her at the worst possible time in her life, only proves what Ashna has always believed: leaps of faith are a recipe for disaster. 

FIFA winning soccer star Rico Silva isn’t too happy to be paired up with Ashna either. Losing Ashna years ago almost destroyed him. The only silver lining to this bizarre situation is that he can finally prove to Ashna that he’s definitely over her. 

But when their catastrophic first meeting goes viral, social media becomes obsessed with their chemistry. The competition on the show is fierce…and so is the simmering desire between Ashna and Rico.  Every minute they spend together rekindles feelings that pull them toward their disastrous past. Will letting go again be another recipe for heartbreak—or a recipe for persuasion…? 

In Recipe for Persuasion, Sonali Dev once again takes readers on an unforgettable adventure in this fresh, fun, and enchanting romantic comedy. 

In the series

#1 Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors

Review 

2.5 stars 

While the first book would have been a solid loose P&P retelling were it not for a mishandling with the Yash subplot, I found Recipe for Persuasion bland by comparison. There is the basic setup Persuasion there, with the reunited lovers once parted due to class differences, but it loses all the punch of the original in Dev’s reimagining. 

Neither of the leads is particularly likable or memorable. In fact, not being a fan of vengeance plots, I found Rico’s ploy to worm his way into the Rajes’ cooking show after having a chip on his shoulder years later after being dumped by Ashna in high school immature, and he didn’t become endearing over time either. And while Ashna doesn’t have anything wrong with her, she’s not particularly memorable either. I had no idea what they saw in each other. 

And while Ashna’s mother is self concerned and neglectful, it was her arc that ultimately carried me through the book, especially as the circumstances of her abusive marriage to Ashna’s father were revealed, and handled with far greater delicacy than the issues of the previous book. I would have been much happier if the story had shifted to focus more on her and her relationship with Ashna, as well as her finding love again. 

From a brief glance at the reviews, this one is definitely polarizing, with some loving it, and some sharing my sentiments. I think if it interests you, I’d recommend reading it for yourself to form your own opinion. 

Author Bio

USA Today Bestselling author Sonali Dev writes Bollywood-style love stories that let her explore issues faced by women around the world while still indulging her faith in a happily ever after.

Sonali’s novels have been on Library Journal, NPR, Washington Post, and Kirkus’s Best Books of the year lists. She has won the American Library Association’s award for best romance, the RT Reviewer Choice Award for best contemporary  romance, multiple RT Seals of Excellence, is a RITA® finalist, and has been listed for the Dublin Literary award. Shelf Awareness calls her “Not only one of the best but one of the bravest romance novelists working today.”She lives in Chicagoland with her very patient and often amused husband and two teens who demand both patience and humor, and the world’s most perfect dog.Find more at sonalidev.com.

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Review of “A Duke Will Never Do” (The Spitfire Society #3) by Darcy Burke

Burke, Darcy. A Duke Will Never Do. [United States]: Darcy Burke Publishing, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1944576745 | $3.99 USD | 248 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

From the USA Today bestselling author of The Untouchables series comes your next Regency obsession: The Spitfire Society… Meet the smart, independent women who’ve decided they don’t need Society’s rules, their families’ expectations, or, most importantly, a husband. But just because they don’t need a man doesn’t mean they might not want one.

After failing on the Marriage Mart, Jane Pemberton has two choices: submit to her parents’ edict to marry their boring neighbor or become a self-declared spinster and take up residence in the official headquarters of the Spitfire Society. It’s really no choice at all, and Jane is eager to embrace her newfound independence. She soon finds an unconscious viscount on her doorstep and nurses him back to health. When he offers to compensate her, she requests payment in the form of private instruction of a scandalous and intimate kind.

Having spiraled into a self-destructive abyss following the murder of his parents, Anthony, Viscount Colton, physically recovers under the care of an alluring spitfire. But it is her charm and flirtatiousness that soothes his soul and arouses his desire—until an extortion scheme forces him to face the sins of his past. Now, to save the woman who’s given him everything he lost and more, he’ll have to pay the ultimate price: his heart.

In the series

#1 Never Have I Ever With a Duke

#2 A Duke Is Never Enough

Review

4 stars

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

A Duke Will Never Do is my second Darcy Burke, the first being the previous book in the Spitfire Society, and I enjoyed this one much more. That one lacked a lot of substance to the characters and plot that this one delivered on so much better. 

I was skeptical of the arc with Anthony descending into rakishness to numb the pain in the aftermath of his parent’s’ murder, as I feel like reforming the rake can often be done poorly. But I enjoyed the way he was portrayed, being self loathing but also trying to be a good person. Him getting together with Jane isn’t a cure-all, and while it’s rushed a bit, I like that he acknowledges he needs time to work on himself. 

The Spitfire Society ladies are fascinating in their living independently on the fringes of society, and Jane is no exception. I like how she decided to stop caring about what people thought about her after a rumor ruined all her prospects.

There’s a mystery element in this one, and the way it connects Anthony and Jane, amping up the stakes for those they care about was wonderful, and provided a nice secondary conflict that was really compelling. 

I really enjoyed this one, and am excited to hear that there’s more stories coming soon for the supporting characters from this book, especially Jane’s sister. I recommend this for fans of steamy historical romance.

Author Bio

Darcy Burke is the USA Today Bestselling Author of sexy, emotional historical and contemporary romance. Darcy wrote her first book at age 11, a happily ever after about a swan addicted to magic and the female swan who loved him, with exceedingly poor illustrations. Join her Reader Group at https://www.darcyburke.com/join-my-reader-group/. A native Oregonian, Darcy lives on the edge of wine country with her guitar-strumming husband, their two hilarious kids who seem to have inherited the writing gene, two Bengal cats and a third cat named after a fruit.

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Review of “Chaos Reigning” (Consortium Rebellion #3) by Jessie Mihalik

Mihalik, Jessie. Chaos Reigning. New York: Harper Voyager, 2020. 

ISBN-13; 978-0062802422 | $16.99 USD | 416 pages | Science Fiction—Space Opera

Blurb

Interplanetary intrigue and romance combine in this electrifying finale to the Consortium Rebellion series.

As the youngest member of her High House, Catarina von Hasenberg is used to being underestimated, but her youth and flighty, bubbly personality mask a clever mind and stubborn determination. Her enemies, blind to her true strength, do not suspect that Cat is a spy—which makes her the perfect candidate to go undercover at a rival House’s summer retreat to gather intelligence on their recent treachery.

Cat’s overprotective older sister reluctantly agrees, but on one condition: Cat cannot go alone. Alexander Sterling, a quiet, gorgeous bodyguard, will accompany her, posing as her lover. After Cat tries, and fails, to ditch Alex, she grudgingly agrees, confident in her ability to manage him. After all, she’s never found a person she can’t manipulate.

But Alex proves more difficult—and more desirable—than Cat anticipated. When she’s attacked and nearly killed, she and Alex are forced to work together to figure out how deep the treason goes. With rumors of widespread assaults on Serenity raging, communications down, and the rest of her family trapped off-planet, Catarina must persuade Alex to return to Earth to expose the truth and finish this deadly battle once and for all.

But Cat can’t explain why she’s the perfect person to infiltrate hostile territory without revealing secrets she’d rather keep buried. . . .

In the series

#1 Polaris Rising 

#2 Aurora Blazing

Review

4 stars

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

I enjoyed the first two Consortium Rebellion books for what they were, but Chaos Reigning is probably my favorite. I love characters who, despite being underestimated, come to surprise you by being super competent, and that’s Cat to a tee. I like that there’s also the factor of her relationship with her family here, something I wanted to be fleshed out more prior, and how they don’t expect much of her. 

Alex also plays a role in my enjoyment, being a sweet, yet still protective love interest. However, as with the previous books, the romance isn’t as much of a focus, and I feel like this one had the least emphasis on that aspect. However, the bits we get still made their relationship my favorite of the series. 

I continue to enjoy the intricate space-opera politics of this world, especially as far as each character plays their role in it trying to improve things in the Consortium for both themselves and the family, as well as for the greater good. While this series is over, I would not be opposed to exploring more of the Consortium in the future, if Mihalik was interested in writing more.

This is a solid conclusion to a debut sci-fi trilogy, and one I recommend to fans of the series, as well as anyone who likes sci-fi with light romantic elements. 

Author Bio

Jessie Mihalik is the author of the first two books in the Consortium Rebellion trilogy, Polaris Rising and Aurora Blazing. A software engineer by trade, she has a degree in Computer Science and a love of all things geeky. Jessie now writes full-time from her home in Central Texas, and when not writing, can be found playing co-op videogames with her husband, trying out new board games, hiking, or reading.

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Review of “The Love of a Libertine” (The Duke’s Bastards #1) by Jess Michaels

Michaels, Jess. The Love of a Libertine. [United States]:The Passionate Pen, LLC, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1947770324 | $4.99 USD | 246 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

he first in The Duke’s Bastards series by 10-Time USA Today Bestselling Author, Jess Michaels

When Morgan Banfield wakes up in Newgate after a night of debauchery, the last thing he wants to see is his estranged brother. But in exchange for his help, Morgan must agree to take on responsibility and try to get his life together by taking on the job of Man of Affairs for a friend.

The last thing Lizzie Margolis wants is some rogue coming onto her brother’s staff. She’s had enough of rakes after being ruined by one years before. But the more she gets to know Morgan, the more drawn to him she becomes. The more she begins to question what is in her own heart and how to manage her growing desire.

But as the two begin to navigate a future, Morgan’s rears its ugly head. If they fight for what they could have, will they win? Or will all that stands between them become an insurmountable wall?

Review

5 stars 

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

Having read my first Jess Michaels recently, I was excited to try more, and this one, like the last, did not let me down. And while this book has some connections to characters in a previous series, there is enough information conveyed for this to function as a stand-alone. 

Both Lizzie and Morgan are such dynamic, relatable characters. I admired how Lizzie was working to move forward following a youthful indiscretion, and while she initially denies herself happiness due to this, and I enjoyed watching her open up again, due to Morgan loving and respecting her. 

Morgan has made some mistakes in his past that make the term “libertine” fit him, and seeing him work to atone for them, including being willing to sacrifice himself to satisfy an enemy’s offended honor. While I’m not always a fan of heroes with a sense of inferiority and “not deserving” the heroine for some reason or another, I could understand where he was coming from, and his expression of this belief, along with Lizzie’s brother’s own reasons for objecting allowed her to make a strong case to the contrary. 

This is another winner from Jess Michaels, and I’m now excited to go back and read the connected 1797 Club (which I initially balked at, because they’re all dukes!). I recommend this if you love steamy historical romance. 

Author Bio

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

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

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Review of “Date Me, Bryson Keller” by Kevin van Whye

Van Whye, Kevin. Date Me, Bryson Keller. New York: Random House Children’s Books, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-0593126035 | $17.99 USD | 336 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

Blurb

What If It’s Us meets To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before in this upbeat and heartfelt boy-meets-boy romance that feels like a modern twist on a ’90s rom-com!

Everyone knows about the dare: Each week, Bryson Keller must date someone new–the first person to ask him out on Monday morning. Few think Bryson can do it. He may be the king of Fairvale Academy, but he’s never really dated before.

Until a boy asks him out, and everything changes.

Kai Sheridan didn’t expect Bryson to say yes. So when Bryson agrees to secretly go out with him, Kai is thrown for a loop. But as the days go by, he discovers there’s more to Bryson beneath the surface, and dating him begins to feel less like an act and more like the real thing. Kai knows how the story of a gay boy liking someone straight ends. With his heart on the line, he’s awkwardly trying to navigate senior year at school, at home, and in the closet, all while grappling with the fact that this “relationship” will last only five days. After all, Bryson Keller is popular, good-looking, and straight . . . right?

Kevin van Whye delivers an uplifting and poignant coming-out love story that will have readers rooting for these two teens to share their hearts with the world–and with each other.

Review 

5 stars 

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

Date Me, Bryson Keller is a sweet LGBTQ+ YA rom-com, in the vein of similar hits like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. While it never loses the light charm it starts off with, the book isn’t afraid to tackle the issues of self-discovery and homophobia in a sensitive way. 

Kai is a likable protagonist, and I could empathize with his struggles with concealing his sexuality and fearing the judgment and hatred he might be targeted with. And while the family rejection is a factor, I was both shocked and moved at how some of his schoolmates reacted.

Bryson is such a cool guy, and so open to the idea of dating Kai for the dare, and the way his own discovery of his identity is explored is well done. And I liked the frank discussion of how them dating technically didn’t go against the rules, but since they kept it a secret 

Phi and it just looked like “two guys hanging out,” by the heteronormative standards through which the dare was originally proposed (even though it wasn’t explicit about it), it seemed like he wasn’t with anyone at first. 

This book is a great balance of sweet and fluffy with an exploration of the deeper issues facing LGBTQ+ teens. I recommend it both to teens and adults who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as allies looking for a strong ownvoices read. 

Author Bio

Credit:  Brandon Barnard Photography.

Kevin van Whye is a writer born and raised in South Africa, where his love for storytelling started at a young age. At four years old, he quit preschool because his teacher couldn’t tell a story. Kevin’s love affair with stories led him to film school to study script writing. Date Me, Bryson Keller is his first novel. Kevin currently lives in Johannesburg.

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Review of a Taste of Sage” by Yaffa S. Santos

Santos, Yaffa S. A Taste of Sage. New York: Harper, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0062974846 | $15.99 USD | 320 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

From talented new writer, Yaffa S. Santos, comes this unforgettable, heartwarming, and hilarious rom-com about chefs, cooking, love, and self-discovery that is a cross between The Hating Game and Sweetbitter.

Lumi Santana is a chef with the gift of synesthesia—she can perceive a person’s emotions just by tasting their cooking. Despite being raised by a single mother who taught her that dreams and true love were silly fairy tales, she decides to take a chance and puts her heart and savings into opening a fusion restaurant in Inwood, Manhattan. The restaurant offers a mix of the Dominican cuisine she grew up with and other world cuisines that have been a source of culinary inspiration to her.

When Lumi’s eclectic venture fails, she is forced to take a position as a sous chef at a staid, traditional French restaurant in midtown owned by Julien Dax, a celebrated chef known for his acid tongue as well as his brilliant smile. Lumi and Julien don’t get along in the kitchen–to say Lumi is irritated by Julien’s smug attitude is an understatement, and she secretly vows never to taste his cooking. Little does she know that her resolve doesn’t stand a chance against Julien’s culinary prowess.

As Julien produces one delectable dish after another, each one tempting Lumi with its overwhelming aromas and gorgeous presentations, she can no longer resist and samples one of his creations. She isn’t prepared for the feelings that follow as she’s overcome with intense emotions. She begins to crave his cooking throughout the day, which throws a curveball in her plan to save up enough money and move on as soon as possible. Plus, there’s also the matter of Esme, Julien’s receptionist who seems to always be near and watching. As the attraction between Lumi and Julien simmers, Lumi experiences a tragedy that not only complicates her professional plans, but her love life as well…

Clever, witty, and romantic, A Taste of Sage is sure to delight and entertain readers until the very last page.

Review 

3 stars

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

A Taste of Sage has an intriguing concept, comparable to a rom-com version of Like Water for Chocolate. And in that regard, it delivers, with sumptuous food descriptions and recipes throughout, and inclusion of Lumi’s unique ability in a fun way in the plot (even if it does take an absurd turn later for the sake of plot convenience).

Lumi herself is relatable, pursuing her dream until she loses everything, and finding herself working as a sous chef under an inflexible head chef.

But I expected there to be some growth on Julien’s part in terms of rediscovering his love of food, and it’s there to an extent, but it just didn’t materialize in a way that made sense or had as big an impact on the plot.

Also, while there is major unspoken chemistry between the two prior to them getting together, especially when they were butting heads, the payoff of them being together wasn’t there, and I just didn’t root for their relationship, even in the crisis point where the break up. 

This is a book that has some great ideas,  but could have used more work fine tuning some of them to make a more convincing and cohesive romance. If you like foodie romance, I think this might be worth trying, just for the unique aspects. 

Author Bio

Yaffa S. Santos was born and raised in New Jersey. A solo trip to Dominican Republic in her teenage years changed her relationship to her Dominican heritage and sparked a passion for cooking and its singular ability to bring people together. Yaffa is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied writing and visual art. She is a member of RWA. She has lived in New York, Philadelphia, Santo Domingo, and now lives in Florida with her family.

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Review of “He’s Come Undone: A Romance Anthology” by Adriana Herrera , Emma Barry, Olivia Dade , Ruby Lang, and Cat Sebastian

Barry, Emma, et.  al. He’s Come Undone. [Place of publication not identified]: Self published, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1945836091 | $2.99 USD | Romance

Blurbs

For him, control is everything…until it shatters, and now he’s come undone.

“Appassionata” by Emma Barry
Piano technician Brennan Connelly lives to control details: the tension on a piano string or the compression of hammer felt. But he’s never faced demands like those heaped on him by Kristy Kwong, the diva who’s haunted his dreams for two decades. Kristy’s got her own secrets–the debilitating stage fright that’s kept her from performing publicly for years to start–and this concert is the last chance to save her career. But can he locate her lost passion without losing his precious control?

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

“Caught Looking” by Adriana Herrera
When best friends Yariel and Hatuey’s gaming night turns into an unexpected and intense hook up, Hatuey can’t wait to do it again. Yariel is less certain–the major leaguer might seem to all the world like he has a heart of stone, but he’s been carrying a torch for his friend for years, and worries this will ruin the most important relationship in his life. That means Hatuey has to do all the work, and he’s planning to give it all he’s got. Yariel may be the one hitting home runs on the field…but Hatuey is playing a game of seduction, and he knows exactly how to make Yariel crumble.

“Yes, And…” by Ruby Lang
When rheumatologist Darren Zhang accidentally sits in on acting teacher Joan Lacy’s improv class, he’s unprepared for the attraction that hits him–and he’s a man who likes to be prepared. Joan is caring for her ailing mother and barely has time to keep up her art, let alone date. But as the pair play out an unlikely relationship during stolen moments, they both find themselves wanting to say yes, and… much more.

“Tommy Cabot Was Here” by Cat Sebastian
Massachusetts, 1959: Some people might accuse mathematician Everett Sloane of being stuffy, but really he just prefers things a certain way: predictable, quiet, and far away from Tommy Cabot–his former best friend, chaos incarnate, and the man who broke his heart. The youngest son of a prominent political family, Tommy threw away his future by coming out to his powerful brothers. When he runs into Everett, who fifteen years ago walked away from Tommy without an explanation or a backward glance, his old friend’s chilliness is just another reminder of how bad a mess Tommy has made of his life. When Everett realizes that his polite formality is hurting Tommy, he needs to decide whether he can unbend enough to let Tommy get close but without letting himself get hurt the way he was all those years ago. 

Review

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

He’s Come Undone is truly an epic romance anthology, featuring works from five up-and-coming romance authors, two of whom I’ve read and loved numerous books from, and the other three being authors I was interested in picking up. While “opposites attract” is hard to pull off in my opinion, especially when it’s an uptight character meeting a more free spirited one and falling apart, all of the takes are great romances, even if there are some minor flaws. 

“Appassionata” by Emma Barry (m/f)

5 stars

This story is a moving tribute to the piano instructors and the art of music itself. I loved both of the leads, but I was particularly struck by the way Kristy’s anxiety and stage fright were conveyed, as it’s something I Sea with in my daily life, although in a different capacity. 

“Unraveled” by Olivia Dade (m/f)

4 stars

It’s a perfect meeting of opposites when the calm, logical math teacher ends up mentoring the new art teacher, the chaotic Poppy Wick. I liked seeing how she—and her murder dioramas (fun!)—challenged him, and led him down the path to his, well, unraveling. 

“Caught Looking” by Adriana Herrera (m/m)

5 stars

This one was steamy in all the right ways! I love a good friends to lovers, and I adored seeing Yariel and Hatuey navigate their “beyond-friendship” feelings for one

 another. And it’s an extension of the Dreamers series, which is always a good thing in my book. 

“Yes, And…” by Ruby Lang (m/f)

4 stars

This is a beautiful portrayal of a woman on the verge of breakdown while caring for a relative, and finding the perfect partner to lean on in a handsome doctor. I definitely feel like there was room for more development of the issues at play here into a larger story, but it still ended up being a sweet read. 

“Tommy Cabot Was Here” by Cat Sebastian (m/m)

5 stars 

This one has it all in a beautiful, emotional package. I loved seeing both Tommy and Everett navigating their feelings for one another in the midst of other pressures from family and society. The 1950s setting is richly drawn, depicting the homophobia of the time, while also giving a sense of hope with the characters’ story. 

In general, this is a superb anthology from five brilliant authors. If you love romance, especially what they’ve termed “starchy” heroes, then check out this anthology. 

Author Bios

Adriana Herrera was born and raised in the Caribbean, but for the last 15 years has let her job (and her spouse) take her all over the world. She loves writing stories about people who look and sound like her people, getting unapologetic happy endings.

Her debut novel, American Dreamer, has been featured on Entertainment Weekly, NPR, the TODAY Show on NBC and was selected as one ALA Booklist’s Top Ten Debut Romances of 2019.

When she’s not dreaming up love stories, planning logistically complex vacations with her family or hunting for discount Broadway tickets, she’s a social worker in New York City, working with survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Emma Barry is a novelist, full-time mama, recovering academic, and former political staffer. When she’s not reading or writing, she loves her twins’ hugs, her husband’s cooking, her cat’s whiskers, her dog’s tail, and Earl Grey tea.

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

Ruby Lang is pint-sized, prim, and bespectacled. Her alter ego, essayist Mindy Hung, has written for The New York Times, The Toast, and Salon, among others. She enjoys running (slowly), reading (quickly), and ice cream (at any speed). She lives in New York with a small child and a medium-sized husband.

Cat writes steamy, upbeat historical romances. They usually take place in the Regency, generally have at least one LGBTQ+ main character, and always have happy endings.

Before writing, Cat was a lawyer and a teacher. She enjoys crossword puzzles, geeking out over birds, gardening badly, and–of course–reading. In high school, her parents went away for a week, and instead of throwing raucous parties, Cat read Middlemarch. Even worse, Cat remembers little of a trip through Europe because she was busy reading Mansfield Park. Her proudest moment was when she realized her kids were shaping up to be hopeless bookworms too. Currently, her favorite genres are romance, mystery and fantasy.

Cat lives with her husband, three kids, and dog in an improbably small house. After growing up in the northeast, she now lives in a part of the south where every body of water seems to contain alligators or sharks, and every restaurant serves biscuits and gravy. She likes the biscuits, but not so much the alligators.

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Review of “The Queen’s Secret” by Karen Harper

Harper, Karen. The Queen’s Secret. New York: William Morrow, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-0062885487 | $16.99 USD | 320 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb

If you love Jennifer Robson or The Crown you will love New York Times bestselling author Karen Harper’s novel about Elizabeth, The Queen Mother.

1939. As the wife of the King George VI and the mother of the future queen, Elizabeth—“the queen mother”—shows a warm, smiling face to the world. But it’s no surprise that Hitler himself calls her the “Most Dangerous Woman in Europe.” For behind that soft voice and kindly demeanor is a will of steel.

Two years earlier, George was thrust onto the throne when his brother Edward abdicated, determined to marry his divorced, American mistress Mrs. Simpson. Vowing to do whatever it takes to make her husband’s reign a success, Elizabeth endears herself to the British people, and prevents the former king and his brazen bride from ever again setting foot in Buckingham Palace.

Elizabeth holds many powerful cards, she’s also hiding damaging secrets about her past and her provenance that could prove to be her undoing.

In this riveting novel of royal secrets and intrigue, Karen Harper lifts the veil on one of the world’s most fascinating families, and how its “secret weapon” of a matriarch maneuvered her way through one of the most dangerous chapters of the century.

Review

3 stars

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

Since the original release of The Crown, I’ve been glad to see more recent Royal historical fiction, with The Queen’s Secret being one of the most anticipated, as the Queen Mother was always one of the modern royals that intrigued me.

However, I found myself a bit confused by the titular “secret,” and even more so once I got into the book, was perplexed at the implausibility of it due to the public lives these people led, and the backlash the source Harper lifted it from got on its release. While I acknowledge her concern of bias in an official biography, with her only comment on it being that the author “did move in the same social circles as the royals.” (P.S. section in the back of the book, 5) Given the more recent gossip surrounding the current royals and the difficulty in figuring out who to believe on that front outside of official sources, I would have hoped she would acknowledge bias and unreliability of this source as well. 

However, just taking it as fiction, it’s pretty good, although, given what we know about what happens, these revelations don’t feel that earth shattering with lasting implications, even though there is a moment when she reveals her secret to her husband. I was actually more interested in the aspects that felt reminiscent of the historical record, but more fleshed out to explore her thoughts and emotions. Being aware of how domineering of a father George V was to his children, it was interesting to have an idea of Elizabeth’s insights into how it impacted each of his sons, contrasting that with Queen Mary’s indulgence of the wayward, philandering Prince George and later the selfish Duke of Windsor. 

I did like this, but I am questioning the point of some of the choices made. I understand the point of poetic license, but when that’s not even the most impactful part of the book, then I feel like it’s not entirely necessary. It is very readable and engaging, and does for the most part capture the Queen well, so I think if you like Royal  historical fiction and don’t mind a bit of inaccuracy for the sake of plot, then you should pick this up. 

Author Bio

A New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Karen Harper is a former college English instructor (The Ohio State University) and high school literature and writing teacher. A lifelong Ohioan, Karen and her husband Don divide their time between the midwest and the southeast, both locations she has used in her books. Besides her American settings, Karen loves the British Isles, where her Scottish and English roots run deep, and where she has set many of her historical Tudor-era mysteries and her historical novels about real and dynamic British women. Karen’s books have been published in many foreign languages and she won the Mary Higgins Clark Award for 2005. Karen has given numerous talks to readers and writers across the county. Her most recent books include THE SOUTH SHORES TRILOGY (CHASING SHADOWS, DROWNING TIDES and FALLING DARKNESS.) Her latest historical is THE ROYAL NANNY. Please visit her website at www.KarenHarperAuthor and her fb page at www.facebook.com/KarenHarperAuthor

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Review of “Private Lessons” by Cynthia Salaysay

Salaysay, Cynthia. Private Lessons. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2020

ISBN-13: 978-1536209600 | $17.99 USD | 320 pages | YA Contemporary

Blurb

In a standout debut for the #MeToo era, a young pianist devotes herself to her art — and to the demanding, charismatic teacher she idolizes.

After seventeen-year-old Claire Alalay’s father’s death, only music has helped her channel her grief. Claire likes herself best when she plays his old piano, a welcome escape from the sadness — and her traditional Filipino mother’s prayer groups. In the hopes of earning a college scholarship, Claire auditions for Paul Avon, a prominent piano teacher, who agrees to take Claire as a pupil. Soon Claire loses herself in Paul’s world and his way of digging into a composition’s emotional core. She practices constantly, foregoing a social life, but no matter how hard she works or how well she plays, it seems impossible to gain Paul’s approval, let alone his affection. Author Cynthia Salaysay composes a moving, beautifully written portrait of rigorous perfectionism, sexual awakening, and the challenges of self-acceptance. Timely and vital, Private Lessons delves into a complicated student/teacher relationship, as well as class and cultural differences, with honesty and grace.

Review

2.5 stars

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

Private Lessons intrigued me, in its discussion both of #MeToo and growing up Filipino. However, while there are some objective good points, for the most part, I found it boring and unengaging.

While it is slow in starting, I did enjoy the development of Claire’s “relationship” with her teacher, and how it develops in a way that we can both understand how she gets swept up by him, while also feeling the wrongness in the way he manipulates her. 

However, otherwise, I did not particularly like Claire, as she was pretty unlikable and boring. I think younger readers might have more patience with her self-centeredness, and the coming-of-age element when she breaks free is pretty decently done. 

I think this is a book that will resonate with a teen audience more, although with the caveat that it does have some heavy content (including on-page rape), so they should be made aware of that beforehand. For adult readers, I don’t know if they’ll get as much out of it, although I would recommend picking it up and giving it a try if they are interested, due to the important topics it covers. 

Author Bio

Cynthia Salaysay holds a bachelor’s degree in English from University of California, Berkeley, and has workshopped her fiction at Tin House. She has written food and culture articles for the San Francisco Examiner, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the East Bay Express, and Civil Eats. Currently, she works as a Reiki practitioner and an operating-room nurse in Oakland, California. Private Lessons is her first novel.

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Review of “Her Best Friend, the Duke” by Laura Martin

Martin, Laura. Her Best Friend, The Duke. Toronto, Ontario: Harlequin, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1335505538 | $6.50 USD | 288 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

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

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

An excellent student…In the art of flirtation

Caroline Yaxley has always been in love with her best friend, James Dunstable, Duke of Heydon. After years of waiting for him, she’s finally admitted defeat and decided to find a husband. James suggests she practice her nonexistent flirtation skills on him, which seems like a good idea—until she must pull away to avoid a shattered heart. Their pretend attraction has begun to feel alarmingly real!

Review

4 stars

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

Friends to lovers is my catnip, so of course, I found Her Best Friend, The Duke incredibly adorable. 

I rooted for Caroline to catch James’ attention, especially as he seemed to only see her as a friend, and kept holding out for “the One” even though she was right in front of him. The angst and drama that ensues of her giving up on waiting, choosing someone else, and him subsequently beginning to discover his feelings ended up being a rewarding story, even if I did feel like James took a bit too long to pick up on things that seemed way too obvious.

I liked this book, in spite of the minor flaws. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a sweet historical romance. 

Author Bio

Laura Martin was born and bred on the South Coast of England into a family of two loving parents and a spirited older sister. Books were a feature of her life from early on. One of her earliest memories involves sitting with the family on a rainy Sunday afternoon, listening to the exploits of a clumsy but lovable stuffed bear and his assorted cuddly friends. Laura’s first ambition was to be a doctor, and in 2006 she went off to Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s Medical School in London to study medicine. It was whilst she was earning her degree that she discovered her love of writing. In between ward rounds and lectures Laura would scribble down ideas to work on later that evening and dream of being an author. In 2012 Laura married her high school sweetheart, and together they settled down in Cambridgeshire. It was around this time that Laura started focussing on the Romance genre, and found what she had always suspected to be true: she was a romantic at heart. Laura now spends her time writing Historical Romances when not working as a doctor. In her spare moments Laura loves to lose herself in a book, and has been known to read from cover to cover in a day when the story is particularly gripping. She also loves to travel with her husband, especially enjoying visiting historical sites and far-flung shores.

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Review of “The Sun Sister” (The Seven Sisters #6) by Lucinda Riley

Riley, Lucinda. The Sun Sister. 2019. New York: Atria Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1982110642 | $28.00 USD | 656 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb

“Seven Sisters books just keep getting better and better” (Tracy Rees, author of Amy Snow) with this epic novel that vividly transports you from the dazzling streets of modern-day New York City to the breathtaking plains of 1940s colonial Kenya.

Electra d’Aplièse is a woman who seems to have it all: as a top model, she has beauty, fame, and wealth. But beneath the glittery veneer, she’s cracking under the pressure of it all. The last straw comes when she finds out her father has died and she turns to alcohol and drugs to ease the pain. As friends and colleagues fear for her health, Electra receives a shocking letter from a complete stranger who claims to be her grandmother.

In 1939, Cecily Huntley-Morgan arrives fresh from New York to Lake Naivasha in Kenya for the exciting chance to stay with her godmother, the famous socialite Kiki Preston. But after a sheltered upbringing, she’s completely astounded by the hedonistic antics of the other ex-pats in the infamous Happy Valley set. Cecily soon grows to love her stunning but complicated new home, and she even accepts a proposal of marriage from Bill Forsythe, an enigmatic older cattle farmer. After a shocking discovery and with war looming, Cecily feels isolated and alone. Until she meets a young woman in the woods and makes her a promise that will change the course of her life forever.

Featuring Lucinda Riley’s “engaging and mesmerizing” (Library Journal, starred review) storytelling and filled with unforgettable and moving characters, The Sun Sister explores how love can cross seemingly impossible boundaries.

In the series

#1 The Seven Sisters 

#2 The Storm Sister 

#3 The Shadow Sister

#4 The Pearl Sister

#5 The Moon Sister 

Review 

4.5 stars

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

Lucinda Riley does it again…The Sun Sister is another epic installment for her Seven Sisters series, and with only one more to go, I’m torn between wanting it now so all can be revealed (the cliffhanger at the end!) and already feeling prematurely sad to see it end. 

I never really liked Electra, but I never doubted Riley could pull her story together in a satisfying way. And the revelation of her issues stunned me and made me feel for her, even when she was being difficult, because in some ways, she reminds me of someone I know and love dearly, who thankfully is also doing better. 

I do think her arc does suffer a bit from Riley’s lack of firsthand experience with drug use and addiction, as the  descriptions of Electra using tend to feel mechanical (e.g. “I did a line of coke”) without going into the feelings of being under the influence of the substance, which would have made her story feel much more believable. And while I did also feel like the description of the rehabilitation process felt a little sugar coated, I commend her for trying to tackle such a tough subject. 

As for the historical arc, it’s typical Riley in that it’s a slow burn to get to the connection to the present day (something Electra even comments on), but it’s never boring. While there are some elements of the “white savior” narrative, with Cecily taking in an African orphan, I did enjoy how that part of the narrative explored the evolution of race relations in the mid-twentieth century with the rise of the civil rights movement, as well as a look at the Happy Valley set in Kenya, a topic I’ve read a bit about in a couple other books. 

I adored this book, and it sent me on a roller coaster of emotions, especially towards the end. If you’ve loved the series up till now, this is another winner. 

Author Bio

Lucinda Riley was born in Ireland, and after an early career as an actress in film, theatre and television, wrote her first book aged twenty-four. Her books have been translated into over thirty five languages and sold twenty million copies worldwide. She is a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller.

Lucinda is currently writing The Seven Sisters series, which tells the story of adopted sisters and is based allegorically on the mythology of the famous star constellation. The first five books, have all been No.1 bestsellers across the world, and the rights to a multi-season TV series have already been optioned by a Hollywood production company.

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Review of “Secrets from a Happy Marriage” by Maisey Yates

Yates, Maisey. Secrets From a Happy Marriage. Toronto, Ontario: HQN, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1335014924 | $16.99 USD |  384 pages | Women’s Fiction 

Blurb

Powerfully emotional, New York Times bestselling author Maisey Yates’s new novel is a heartwarming exploration of how life’s biggest challenges can turn into the greatest opportunities of all…

Rachel Henderson’s family is falling apart. Becoming a widow–especially at this age–is heartbreaking. And now with her teenage daughter, Emma, leaving soon for college, Rachel’s never felt more lost. She needs a friend–and local diner-owner Adam is the last person she ever thought she’d lean on.

From the outside, her little sister, Anna, has a picture-perfect marriage. But the weight of it is suffocating her. The only way for her to breathe again–and claim the life she’s always wanted–comes at a high price, one she’s not so sure she can pay.

After raising two daughters on her own and setting up the Lighthouse Inn B&B from scratch, their mother, Wendy, knows just how hard life can be. She’s done things she’s not proud of, things she desperately wants to keep from her girls–until keeping quiet is no longer an option.

As long-held secrets bubble up and their old lives unravel, the women of Lighthouse Inn will need all their strength to start again and open their hearts up to the possibility of more. But most of all, they’ll need each other…

Review

4 stars

Family secrets and the bonds between women across generations are the themes for Maisey Yates’ latest novel; Secrets from a Happy Marriage. And while I didn’t know much about what to expect aside from that, as I’m new to Maisey Yates, I ended up really enjoying this book. 

I enjoyed the bond between the four women and how it shows how complex the relationship between mother and daughter or sisters can be, and even when you’re close, there are going to be things you hide, which is especially true for Wendy, who has some major secrets from her past she kept from her daughters. And it’s wonderful to see Wendy, Anna, Rachel, and Emma all overcome their individual hardships and find happiness.

 I also love the sense of history interspersed throughout with the epigraphs containing snippets of letters from the past, and while it took a bit to figure out the connection, I loved the way it came together over the course of the book. 

I enjoyed this one, and will consider picking up more Maisey Yates books in the future, if they catch my interest. I recommend this to anyone looking for a story about family and the trials the different members face. 

Author Bio

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author Maisey Yates lives in rural Oregon with her three children and her husband, whose chiseled jaw and arresting features continue to make her swoon. She feels the epic trek she takes several times a day from her office to her coffee maker is a true example of her pioneer spirit.

In 2009, at the age of twenty-three Maisey sold her first book. Since then it’s been a whirlwind of sexy alpha males and happily ever afters, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Maisey divides her writing time between dark, passionate category romances  set just about everywhere on earth and light sexy contemporary romances set practically in her back yard. She believes that she clearly has the best job in the world.

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Review of “Sleeping Evie” (Lady Goosebury’s Tales) by Jessica Cale

Cale, Jessica. Sleeping Evie. [United States]: Jessica Cale, 2020.

ASIN: B086DD9J4V | $3.99 USD | 152 pages | Historical Romance—Victorian/Gothic

Blurb

When Evie Henshawe agreed to sit as an artist’s model for the eccentric Marquess of Ashcombe, she was expecting to lose her clothes and her reputation. She wasn’t counting on losing her mind—or her heart.

As a second son, Ash was never meant to be a marquess. Bookish, circumspect, and devoted to his art, he’s a visionary, not a landlord. Horrified by the realities of the Industrial Revolution, he buries himself in the past and uses his resources to build a Gothic Revival Camelot in north London, a place where he can disappear into his dreams. He plans to do exactly that—until Evie comes to wake him up.

An out-of-work seamstress sleeping rough in Highgate Cemetery, Evie is the last person who should turn Ash’s head. Having lost her fiancé and most of her friends to Paris Green, all she has left is her looks, a dark sense of humor, and a laudanum habit. Modeling is a job like any other, but she’s never met a man quite like Ash.

Through art, history, and volatile chemistry, this odd couple soon discover they’re kindred spirits, but things at the castle aren’t as perfect as they seem. Ash has a secret that might just send Evie back to Highgate. Is there a way forward for the artist and his muse, or will his circumstances turn their dream into a nightmare? 

Review

4 stars

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

At long last, a new story from one of my favorite authors! Sleeping Evie is part of the the multi-author collaborative series, Lady Goosebury’s Tales, combining these fairy tale influences with an immersive portrayal of the Gothic Revival in Victorian England. The characters rub shoulders with some of Pre-Raphaelite luminaries, and the descriptions of the art are picturesque. 

The between seamstress-turned-model Evie and the reluctant peer and eccentric artist Ash strikes the perfect balance of sweet and sensual, and both are likable characters. 

The one major flaw was concerning the “Other Woman as villain” trope. I’m just not fond of seeing it in romance anymore, and the fact that essentially the reason the “arrangement” between her and Ash hadn’t ended sooner is down to his cowardice in that regard didn’t reflect too well on him, especially as he got more invested with Evie. 

This is a nice short romance with wonderful historical detail and a great concept that the book delivers on completely. I recommend this for lovers of historical romance, especially if you also love art. 

Author Bio

Jessica Cale is a historical romance author and journalist based in North Carolina. Originally from Minnesota, she lived in Wales for several years where she earned a BA in History and an MFA in Creative Writing while climbing castles and photographing mines for history magazines. She kidnapped (“married”) her very own British prince (close enough) and is enjoying her happily ever after with him in a place where no one understands his accent. You can visit her at www.authorjessicacale.com.

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Review of “Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen” by Alison Weir

Weir, Alison. Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen. New York: Ballantine, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1101966600 | $28.99 USD | 480 pages | Historical Fiction

Blurb

 Bestselling author and acclaimed historian Alison Weir tells the tragic story of Henry VIII’s fifth wife, a nineteen-year-old beauty with a hidden past, in this fifth novel in the sweeping Six Tudor Queens series.

In the spring of 1540, Henry VIII, desperate to be rid of his queen, Anna of Kleve, first sets eyes on the enchanting Katheryn Howard. Although the king is now an ailing forty-nine-year-old measuring fifty-four inches around his waist, his amorous gaze lights upon the pretty teenager. Seated near him intentionally by her ambitious Catholic family, Katheryn readily succumbs to the courtship.

Henry is besotted with his bride. He tells the world she is a rose without a thorn, and extols her beauty and her virtue. Katherine delights in the pleasures of being queen and the power she has to do good to others. She comes to love the ailing, obese king and tolerate his nightly attentions. If she can bear him a son, her triumph will be complete. But Katheryn has a past of which Henry knows nothing, and which comes back increasingly to haunt her–even as she courts danger yet again. 

In the series

#1 Katharine of Aragon: The True Queen

#2 Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession

#3 Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen

#4 Anna of Kleve: The Princess in the Portrait

Review

4.5 stars

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

Each of the Six Wives has stereotypes about them, and over the course of the series, Weir seems to demonstrate, despite her reputation for accuracy, that she’s not immune to bias. So while this book was yet another chance for her to take shots at the Boleyns on passing, otherwise, Katheryn Howard: The Scandalous Queen is a compassionate portrayal of the wife often considered to be a dumb or oversexed, to put it mildly, showing she is at most naive and underprepared for the cutthroat political scheming going on around her. 

I love how the falls of others, from her cousin Anne Boleyn  to the Countess of Salisbury are portrayed through Kathryn’s eyes to foreshadow her own fate, and while, with hindsight, we can say that she might have saved herself if she’d told the truth earlier (and Weir does state this is the case), I can still understand why she didn’t, given her background and what she had been instructed to do by those she thought knew better. 

I also enjoyed seeing her dynamic with King Henry, as while the romantic love is not returned  on her side, it was yet another example of how changeable he could be when he felt betrayed by someone. 

This is a truly epic book about the rise and fall of a largely misunderstood Tudor Queen. I recommend it to fans of historical fiction, especially if you love the Tudors. 

Author Bio

Alison Weir is a British writer of history books for the general public, mostly in the form of biographies about British kings and queens, and of historical fiction. Before becoming an author, Weir worked as a teacher of children with special needs. She received her formal training in history at teacher training college. She currently lives in Surrey, England, with her two children.

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Review of “Rakes and Roses” (Mayfield Family #3) by Josi S. Kilpack

Kilpack, Josi S. Rakes and Roses. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1629727356 | $15.99 USD | 320 pages | Regency Romance 

Blurb

A standalone novel in the Mayfield Family series with an unusual premise and an uplifting ending.

Lady Sabrina endured an abusive marriage, a miscarriage, and early widowhood to emerge as a smart, successful, confident woman who found a way to make her mark in a man’s world. She has friends and purpose, but cannot hide from the emptiness she feels when the parties are over and the friends have gone home to families she will never have.

Harry Stillman may be charming and handsome, but he’s a gambler and a rake who has made a mockery of his privileges. He turns to the mysterious Lord Damion for financial relief from his debts, but still ends up beaten nearly senseless by thugs and left in an alley.

When Lady Sabrina comes upon Harry after the attack, she remembers the kindness Harry once showed to her six years ago and brings him to her estate to heal. Though their relationship begins on rocky footing, it soon mellows into friendship, then trust. But Lady Sabrina needs to keep Harry at a distance, even if he is becoming the kind of man worthy of her heart. After all, she is keeping a secret that, if exposed, could destroy everything she’s so carefully built.

In the series 

#1 Promises and Primroses 

#2 Daisies and Devotion 

ADVANCE PRAISE:

“Uplifting…Kilpack flips the typical Regency romance script, with the heroine rescuing the hero. Kilpack’s strong, upright heroine who finds a way to claim her power in Regency society sets this love story apart. This magnetic tale will appeal to fans of emotional romance.”—Publisher’s Weekly 

 “Kilpack takes traditional regency roles and challenges them. She shows how one person can make an impact in the world. I found the story and premise unique.”—Heather Gardner, Fire and Ice

“This is a story of redemption above all else…the ending was perfect.”— Lucinda Whitney, author of Rescuing the Prince

Review

5 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. And thank you to Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. 

Unlike most romance readers, I loathe the reformed rake trope and find it both tired and unrealistic (although I understand most people don’t read romance for realism, so there’s that). But with Rakes and Roses, Josi S. Kilpack creates a realistic portrayal of a reformed rake, leading to a satisfying happy ending. 

I love that Harry’s arc begins with him hitting rock bottom, and sees the heroine helping care for his injuries and wean him off alcohol. There is definitely the risk of this being something where he depends on her to stay clean, but that’s not the case as Harry does develop into a competent human being by the end. 

I also like that, while exploring a reversal of roles, wiry Sabrina having the money and power to have him in his care, it doesn’t neglect to give her a past as well. She’s a bit older and she dealt with a horrible first marriage. While she helps him heal, he helps her to come out of her shell a bit more.

I enjoyed this book as much as the previous two, perhaps even more for the older heroine with a past and the growth of the hero I did not expect to like. I think if you’ve liked the series so far, you’ll love this one, and would also recommend it to fans of sweet romances. 

Author Bio 

Josi S. Kilpack is the bestselling author of several Proper Romance and Proper Romance Historical series and a Cozy Culinary Mystery series. Her books, A Heart Revealed and Lord Fenton’s Folly; were Publishers Weekly Best Romance Books of the Year. She and her husband, Lee, are the parents of four children.

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Bestselling author Josi S. Kilpack tours the blogosphere May 4 through May 22, 2020 to share her third novel in the Mayfield Family series, Rakes and Roses. Forty popular book bloggers specializing in historical romance, inspirational fiction, and Austenesque fiction will feature guest blogs, interviews, exclusive excerpts, and book reviews of this acclaimed Regency romance.

RAKES AND ROSES BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE:

May 04       My Jane Austen Book Club (Guest Blog)

May 04       Historical Fiction with Spirit (Review)

May 04       Austenprose—A Jane Austen Blog (Review)

May 04       All About Romance (Guest Blog)

May 05       Timeless Novels (Review)

May 05       Literary Time Out (Review)

May 06       For Where Your Treasure Is (Review)

May 06       Courtney Reads Romance (Review)

May 07       Fire and Ice (Excerpt)

May 07       Gwendalyn’s Books (Review)

May 08       History Lizzie (Review)

May 08       Wishful Endings (Review)

May 09       Encouraging Words from the Tea Queen (Spotlight)

May 09       Relz Reviewz (Character spotlight)

May 10       Book Confessions of an Ex-Ballerina (Review)

May 10       Delighted Reader (Excerpt)

May 11       Frolic Media (Guest Blog)

May 11       A Bookish Way of Life (Review)

May 11       Bringing Up Books (Review)

May 12       Lu Reviews Books (Review)

May 13       English Historical Fiction Authors (Guest Blog)

May 13       Adventure. Romance. Suspense (Review)

May 14       Chicks, Rogues, and Scandals (Interview)

May 14       So Little Time…So Much to Read (Spotlight)

May 15       Storybook Reviews (Excerpt)

May 16       The Book Diva’s Reads (Review)

May 16       The Fiction Aficionado (Review)

May 17       Inkwell Inspirations (Spotlight)

May 17       Half Agony, Half Hope (Review)

May 18       Romance Junkies (Guest Blog)

May 18       Christian Chick’s Thoughts (Review)

May 18       The Lit Bitch (Review)

May 19       The Caffeinated Bibliophile (Interview)

May 19       Heidi Reads (Review)

May 19       Bookworm Lisa (Excerpt)

May 19       Laura’s Reviews (Review)

May 19       Katie’s Clean Book Collection (Review)

May 20       The Silver Petticoat Review (Excerpt)

May 20       Joy of Reading (Review)

May 20       Austenesque Reviews (Review)

May 21       The Calico Critic (Spotlight)

May 21       Getting Your Read On (Review)  

May 21       From Pemberley to Milton (Excerpt)

May 22       Wishful Endings (Interview)

Review of “Goldilocks” by Laura Lam

Lam, Laura. Goldilocks. New York: Orbit, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-0316462860 | $27.00 USD | 352 pages | Science Fiction

Blurb

A gripping science fiction thriller where five women task themselves with ensuring the survival of the human race; perfect for readers of The MartianThe Power, and Station Eleven.
Despite increasing restrictions on the freedoms of women on Earth, Valerie Black is spearheading the first all-female mission to a planet in the Goldilocks Zone, where conditions are just right for human habitation.
It’s humanity’s last hope for survival, and Naomi, Valerie’s surrogate daughter and the ship’s botanist, has been waiting her whole life for an opportunity like this – to step out of Valerie’s shadow and really make a difference.
But when things start going wrong on the ship, Naomi begins to suspect that someone on board is concealing a terrible secret – and realizes time for life on Earth may be running out faster than they feared . . .
Goldilocks is The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Martian – a bold and thought-provoking new high-concept thriller.

Review 

3 stars

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

Goldilocks was another random find, and I was intrigued by the concept of a story that both dealt with the familiar elements of dealing with a deadly virus and working to find a way to build life on another planet, as well as the more unique aspect of discussing women’s issues within that context. 

Lam does a pretty good job with some of it. She masters the delicate balance of accuracy/attention to detail and managing to convey it so you don’t have to have an interest in science to enjoy the book. 

And she does get some elements of the characterization right. Valerie, Naomi’s mentor, has the most complex motivations, and I felt like she was the best drawn out of the cast with her moral ambiguity, leading to some important questions we would have to ponder in a similar situation. 

I didn’t much care for the protagonist, Naomi, however. There are glimmers of the “women’s rights” aspect in her narrative, but I was never given a real reason to root for her, or any of the other characters for that matter. 

I didn’t 100% love this one, but I do like that Lam tried to discuss difficult topics with this book, even if the execution didn’t totally work. I’d still recommend giving this one a try if you like science fiction, especially stories about space travel. 

Author Bio

Laura Lam was born in the late eighties and raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies.

After studying literature and creative writing at university, she relocated to Scotland to be with the partner she met online when they were teenagers and he insulted her taste in books and she insulted his right back. She is now a dual citizen, but at times she misses the sunshine.

While working a variety of jobs, she began writing. Pantomime, the first book in the award winning Micah Grey series, was released in 2013. Robin Hobb says “Pantomime by Laura Lam took me into a detailed and exotic world, peopled by characters that I’d love to be friends with . . . and some I’d never want to cross paths with.” The rest of the series is Shadowplay, Masquerade, and the Vestigial Tales.

Her near future cyberpunk thrillers include False Hearts and Shattered Minds. Her short work has appeared in Scotland in Space, Nasty Women, Solaris Rising 3, Cranky Ladies of History, and more. She also writes f/f romance as Laura Ambrose.

Her 2020 releases include Goldilocks, about the first all-female mission to an exosolar planet, and Seven Devils, co-written with Elizabeth May, which is about a group of women smashing a patriarchal evil empire in space.

She is still hiding from sunshine in Scotland where she lectures in creative writing at Napier University and writes more stories. 

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Review of “Of Literature and Lattes” by Katherine Reay

Reay, Katherine. Of Literature and Lattes. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0785222040 | $16.99 USD | 336 pages | Christian Fiction/Women’s Fiction 

Blurb

Return to the cozy and delightful town of Winsome, where two people discover the grace of letting go and the joy found in unexpected change.

After fleeing her hometown three years earlier, Alyssa Harrison never planned to return. Then the Silicon Valley start-up she worked for collapsed and turned her world upside down. She is broke, under FBI investigation, and without a place to go. Having exhausted every option, she comes home to Winsome, Illinois, to regroup and move on as quickly as possible. Yet, as friends and family welcome her back, Alyssa begins to see a place for herself in this small Midwestern community.

Jeremy Mitchell moved from Seattle to Winsome to be near his daughter and to open the coffee shop he’s been dreaming of for years. Problem is, the business is bleeding money—and he’s not quite sure why. When he meets Alyssa, he senses an immediate connection, but what he needs most is someone to help him save his floundering business. After asking for her help, he wonders if something might grow between them—but forces beyond their control soon complicate their already complex lives, and the future they both hoped for is not at all what they anticipated.

With the help of Winsome’s small-town charm and quirky residents, Alyssa and Jeremy discover the beauty and romance of second chances.

“In her ode to small towns and second chances, Katherine Reay writes with affection and insight about the finer things in life.” —KAREN DUKESS, author of The Last Book PartyFollow-up to The Printed Letter BookshopFull-length small-town romance (c. 86,000 words)Includes Discussion Questions

Review

2.5 stars

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

Katherine Reay has frequently been recommended to me by some of my favorite inspirational writers, particularly her Austen inspired books. So, I was eager to give her a try with her latest, Of Literature and Lattes. And while it has a good idea at the heart of it, I just didn’t care for the execution. 

I love the cozy small town atmosphere, and hearing that she has another book set in the same small town is exciting, as I know what I might check out next. And of the characters and storylines, I enjoyed Jeremy and his relationship with his daughter Becca.

However, I never fully felt invested in Alyssa’s story, and there’s a plethora of other characters who I found too hard to keep track of. 

Admittedly this is a bit of an odd book in a genre I don’t read often (small town contemporary), so I think your mileage may vary when it comes to whether you enjoy this one. If you’ve been a fan of this genre in the past or like this author, I think you should make the call for yourself, 

Author Bio

Katherine Reay is the national bestselling and award-winning author of Dear Mr. KnightleyLizzy & JaneThe Bronte PlotA Portrait of Emily PriceThe Austen Escape and The Printed Letter Bookshop. Her first nonfiction book, co-authored with Rebecca Powell, will release February 2020. Katherine’s novels are love letters to books. They are character driven stories that examine the past as a way to find one’s best way forward. In the words of The Bronte Plot’s Lucy Alling, she writes of “that time when you don’t know where you’ll be, but you can’t stay as you are.”

Katherine holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. She then worked in marketing and development before returning to graduate school for a Masters of Theological Studies. Moves to Texas, England, Ireland and Washington left that degree unfinished as Katherine spent her time unpacking, raising kids, volunteering, writing, and exploring new storylines and new cities. Katherine writes full-time now and, as her kids go off to college, she finds the house increasingly quiet. Soon only she and her husband, with dogs Patch and Trip, will live at home outside Chicago.

When not plotting a character’s demise and long journey home, Katherine can be found walking (no longer running) the neighborhood, hanging out with her kids and friends, or – rarely and with great excitement – fly fishing. You can also find her all across social media chatting about life, literature, lattes and the world of books.

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Review of “Family for Beginners” by Sarah Morgan

Morgan, Sarah. Family for Beginners. Toronto, Ontario: HQN, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1335014931 (paperback)/978-1488056666 (ebook) | $16.99 USD (paperback)/$9.99 USD (ebook) | 384 pages | Women’s Fiction 

Blurb

USA TODAY bestselling author Sarah Morgan returns with a life-affirming exploration of love, loss, and how families come in all shapes and sizes…

New York florist Flora Donovan is living the dream, but her bubbly optimism hides a secret. She’s lonely. Orphaned as a child, she’s never felt like she’s belonged anywhere…until she meets Jack Parker. He’s the first man to ever really see her, and it’s life changing.

Teenager Izzy Parker is holding it together by her fingertips. Since her mother passed away a year ago, looking after her dad and little sister is the only thing that makes Izzy feel safe. Discovering her father has a new girlfriend is her worst nightmare—she is not in the market for a replacement mom. Then her father invites Flora on their summer vacation…

Flora’s heart aches for Izzy, but she badly wants her relationship with Jack to work. As the summer unfolds, Flora must push her own boundaries to discover parts of herself she never knew existed—and to find the family she’s always wanted.

Review

4 stars

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

This is my first book by Sarah Morgan, but I’ve occasionally heard her books mentioned by others, and based on my experience with this one, it won’t be my last. This is a heartwarming story about family being about more than blood, with the main characters each finding (or redefining) their place in the family unit. 

I really felt for orphaned Flora who never really felt like she belonged anywhere due to losing her mother at a young age. And the sweet relationship that develops between her and Jack was made even more compelling by the way he begins to welcome her into his still grief-stricken family, leading to an evolving relationship with his two daughters: the younger, Molly embraces her relatively quickly, while the elder, Izzy, does not. 

I enjoyed getting Izzy’s perspective as well, because while it seemed at first to be a story where the daughter has to deal with “dad’s new girlfriend” that she’s hostile to, there’s depth to it, by exploring a revelation about her mother that puts her off balance and has her questioning her identity and place in the family. And the addition of Clare’s perspective as the best friend to Jack’s late wife Becca, while not my favorite parts of the novel, further contextualizes the way they are dealing with grief, as well as the reality of who Becca was. 

I enjoyed this book and its sweet story about family and healing from loss. I recommend this to anyone looking for a cozy, heartwarming contemporary read.

Author Bio

Sarah Morgan is a Sunday Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance and women’s fiction. She has sold over 18 million copies of her books, and her trademark humour and warmth have gained her fans across the globe.  Her books have been translated into 28 languages and have earned her starred reviews from Publishers WeeklyBooklist and Library Journal.

Sarah lives near London, and when she isn’t reading or writing she loves spending time outdoors, walking or riding her mountain bike. She frequently stops to take photographs, much to the annoyance of her family.

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Review of “The Brideship Wife” by Leslie Howard

Howard, Leslie. The Brideship Wife. Toronto, Ontario: Simon & Schuster Canada, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1508259350 (paperback)/978-1508259367 (eBook) | $17.99 USD (paperback)/$11.99 USD (ebook) | 400 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb

Inspired by the history of the British “brideships,” this captivating historical debut tells the story of one woman’s coming of age and search for independence—for readers of Pam Jenoff’s The Orphan’s Tale and Armando Lucas Correa’s The German Girl.

Tomorrow we would dock in Victoria on the northwest coast of North America, about as far away from my home as I could imagine. Like pebbles tossed upon the beach, we would scatter, trying to make our way as best as we could. Most of us would marry; some would not.

England, 1862. Charlotte is somewhat of a wallflower. Shy and bookish, she knows her duty is to marry, but with no dowry, she has little choice in the matter. She can’t continue to live off the generosity of her sister Harriet and her wealthy brother-in-law, Charles, whose political aspirations dictate that she make an advantageous match.

When Harriet hosts a grand party, Charlotte is charged with winning the affections of one of Charles’s colleagues, but before the night is over, her reputation—her one thing of value—is at risk. In the days that follow, rumours begin to swirl. Soon Charles’s standing in society is threatened and all that Charlotte has held dear is jeopardized, even Harriet, and Charlotte is forced to leave everything she has ever known in England and embark on a treacherous voyage to the New World.

From the rigid social circles of Victorian England to the lawless lands bursting with gold in British Columbia’s Cariboo, The Brideship Wife takes readers on a mesmerizing journey through a time of great change. Based on a forgotten chapter in history, this is a sparkling debut about the pricelessness of freedom and the courage it takes to follow your heart.

Review 

5 stars

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

Having relatively recently read another book about the brideships, I was excited to get a Canadian author’s take on the event with The Brideship Wife. And I ended up loving this book for how it tackles that little known historical event, paying tribute to the real life women who traveled on the Tynemouth, while also using it as an opportunity to discuss a compelling reason a single woman would make that choice. 

I loved seeing Charlotte come into her own through her experiences, as before that, she was in a precarious situation of allowing her family to make choices for her future, as was expected, and when a man violates her, she is the one who faces ruin. But through striking out on her own, she learns more of the world. 

I could not help but compare and contrast her arc to that of her sister’s. The two ultimately made different choices, but I think part of Charlotte’s growth into being able to become independent is seeing how ill-used her sister was by her former husband. 

There’s a great supporting cast throughout, from the forward thinking Dr. Carson, who takes Charlotte under his tutelage, to the sweet romantic interest, the clergyman John Crossman, and the widowed Sarah, who is also a target of scorn. 

I loved this book; it’s a wonderful historical novel commenting on women’s precarious position in society, while also exploring a little known historical event in British/Canadian history. I recommend this to anyone who loves  historical fiction. 

Author Bio

Born and raised in British Columbia, Canada, Leslie came to love the people, the stunning landscape and the history of this unique part of the world, and she yearned to write about them. But recognizing that a career in writing would not pay the bills she chose finance instead. She earned a degree in Economics and Political Science from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario and enjoyed a successful seventeen-year career in investment and international wealth management with one of Canada’s leading financial institutions.

Later she became a consultant to the non-profit sector, advising charities on obtaining and managing large gifts. Here she was able to develop her latent passion for writing with many nonfiction articles published in newspapers, websites and trade journals. Mentored by her mother, the late novelist Blanche Howard, Leslie tried her hand at fiction.

The soon to be published (May 2020) by Simon and Schuster, Canada, The Brideship Wife is her debut novel.

Married with two grown children, Leslie divides her time between Vancouver, British Columbia and a small heirloom cider apple farm in the beautiful Naramata Bench area of the Okanagan Valley, a stone’s throw from where she and her husband grew up.

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Review of “First Comes Scandal (Rokesbys #4) by Julia Quinn

Quinn, Julia. First Comes Scandal. New York: Avon Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0062956163 (paperback)/978-0062956170 (eBook) | $7.99 USD (mass market)/$6.99 USD (ebook) | 375 pages | Regency Romance 

Blurb

She was given two choices…

Georgiana Bridgerton isn’t against the idea of marriage. She’d just thought she’d have some say in the matter. But with her reputation hanging by a thread after she’s abducted for her dowry, Georgie is given two options: live out her life as a spinster or marry the rogue who has ruined her life.

Enter Option #3

As the fourth son of an earl, Nicholas Rokesby is prepared to chart his own course. He has a life in Edinburgh, where he’s close to completing his medical studies, and he has no time—or interest—to find a wife. But when he discovers that Georgie Bridgerton—his literal girl-next-door—is facing ruin, he knows what he must do.

A Marriage of Convenience

It might not have been the most romantic of proposals, but Nicholas never thought she’d say no. Georgie doesn’t want to be anyone’s sacrifice, and besides, they could never think of each other as anything more than childhood friends… or could they?

But as they embark upon their unorthodox courtship they discover a new twist to the age-old rhyme. First comes scandal, then comes marriage. But after that comes love…

In the series

#1 Because of Miss Bridgerton 

#2 The Girl With the Make-Believe Husband

#3 The Other Miss Bridgerton

Review

4.5 stars

A new Julia Quinn book is always a reason to celebrate in my book, and First Comes Scandal is no different, the delivery of which (while late) was one of the bright spots of self-isolation, followed soon after by cracking it open. And while I understand some of the concerns about it being low-conflict and lacking in plot, JQ somehow makes it work in a way other authors don’t for me, with her signature wonderful characters and trademark humor.

The two leads are charming and wonderful. I admired Georgie, especially in terms of how she handled the scandal she found herself in; she ably and comically disarms her abductor,  both when he tried to kidnap her initially, and later when he’s still pressing his suit. 

And Nicholas! I love that she wrote a virgin hero without him having a super deep moral reason for doing it, and also acknowledging the risk of disease, something that most historicals include in the “things we pretend don’t exist” pile. And the way he grows more enlightened about medicine and the inequities between men and women through his discussions with Georgie is great, and doesn’t feel out of place.

But of course, given this is a prequel to her original bestselling Bridgerton series, the best part is the tie-ins, as this is where things begin to come together, in a way previous books have only had a reference here or there (if that). Edmund and Violet appear, along with young Anthony and Benedict, and Baby Colin, the latter of whom has undoubtedly stolen the show. He mostly shows early signs of his massive appetite, and the other two display their thirst for mischief. But it’s nice to see that the Bridgertons were always a close knit clan across the generations. 

I really loved this book, but I am aware I am a bit biased where Julia Quinn is concerned, especially as the Bridgertons are involved. I think if you love either of the two as much as I do, then you’ll enjoy this book. 

Author Bio

#1 New York Times bestselling author Julia Quinn loves to dispel the myth that smart women don’t read (or write) romance, and if you watch reruns of the game show The Weakest Link you might just catch her winning the $79,000 jackpot. She displayed a decided lack of knowledge about baseball, country music, and plush toys, but she is proud to say that she aced all things British and literary, answered all of her history and geography questions correctly, and knew that there was a Da Vinci long before there was a code.

In 2020, Netflix will premiere Bridgerton, based on her popular series of novels about the Bridgerton family.

To stay up-to-date on all Bridgerton-on-Netflix news, subscribe to JuliaQuinn.com Site News & Updates.

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Review of “Island Affair” (Keys to Love #1) by Priscilla Oliveras

Oliveras, Priscilla. Island Affair. New York: Zebra, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1420150179 (paperback)/978-1420150186 (eBook) | $15.95 USD (paperback)/$10.49 (eBook) | 352 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

Sought-after social media influencer Sara Vance, in recovery from an eating disorder, is coming into her own, with a potential career expansion on the horizon. Despite the good news, her successful siblings (and their perfect spouses) have a way of making her feel like the odd one out. So, when her unreliable boyfriend is a no-show for a Florida family vacation, Sara recruits Luis Navarro—a firefighter paramedic and dive captain willing to play the part of her smitten fiancé . . .
 
Luis’s big Cuban familia has been in Key West for generations, and his quiet strength feeds off the island’s laidback style. Though guarded after a deep betrayal, he’ll always help someone in need—especially a spunky beauty with a surprising knowledge of Spanish curse words. Soon, he and Sara have memorized their “how we met” story and are immersed in family dinners, bike tours, private snorkeling trips . . . sharing secrets, and slow, melting kisses. But when it’s time for Sara to return home, will their island romance last or fade with the stunning sunset?
 

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Island Affair is an enjoyable new release from Priscilla Oliveras, and while it doesn’t quite measure up to the sheer perfection of the Matched to Perfection series, particularly the latter two books in the series, I enjoyed this one nonetheless. 

Oliveras creates another to-die-for hero in the form of Luis. He’s just a solid, good guy, and I like that he wants to save everyone, which is built into his chosen career as a firefighter, but also has some issues from his past he has to work through over the course of the book. 

Sara is also interesting. While I don’t know if the rep for eating disorders is accurate, I do trust that Oliveras did her research. I could definitely relate to her feeling of never being enough to please her family, although not to the same degree. 

I did feel a little bogged down at times with two large complex families with big issues to follow, especially in comparison to the smaller scale of MtP. However, given this is also the first in a series, it is introducing the cast, some of whom will play roles as heroes or heroines in their own books going forward, so I suppose it’s par for the course.

This is a sweet romance with a healthy dash of spice (although, it should be noted that, like her previous work, the sex is fade-to-black following a bit of foreplay). I recommend this book if you like sweet stories with a Latinx flavor and a strong focus on family dynamics as well as 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 “Racetrack Royalty” (Merindah Park #4) by Renee Dahlia

Dahlia, Renee. Racetrack Royalty. Sydney: Escape Publishing, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1489298713 | $2.99 USD | 250 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

One fast horse, and a whirlwind romance set among the glamour of Royal Ascot.

Shannon Bassett

It’s a long way from Merindah Park, Australia, to Royal Ascot–but that’s where I’ve found myself. The international stud farm that bought my horse, Biographical, want him to race and as his trainer, they need me here. I’m not the top hat and penguin suit type, and the media here don’t get my horse at all–unlike the beautiful woman reading the newspaper over my shoulder on the train today. I’m going home soon so I shouldn’t fall for Ananya, but she understands me as well as horses … and she’s sexy as hell …

Ananya Rahman

According to my middle class, hard-working parents, I have the world’s weirdest hobby. I love doing pedigree analysis on racehorses, and I spend much of my hard-earned cash every year on clothes for Royal Ascot. Still, I didn’t mean to lecture this cute Aussie about his own horse on the train today–or to be pulled into his fancy world of horse breeders. I’m a London girl and he’s from the other side of the world … but we both forget that when we kiss. What happens when the races are over?

In the series

#1 Merindah Park

#2 Making Her Mark

#3 Two Hearts Healing

Review

3 stars

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

While publishing is very America-centric, I’m always interested to find authors located outside the US, especially when they work with non-American publishers. And in the case of Racetrack Royalty, I got a sense of the local culture, with Dahlia paying tribute to the indigenous Eora Nation, as she noted in the acknowledgments. 

And this book focusing on the Royal Ascot in Australia, with both the leads being involved with horses is super fun, and one of several aspects where the book used real world information to create an entertaining story. 

I did like both Shannon and Ananya for the most part, and enjoyed seeing them bond over their shared interest. And the exploration of both of their family dynamics, especially hers, given her family is from Bangladesh, is well done, and is one of the better parts of the book for me. 

However, this is a case where I wish I had done a bit more research prior to requesting based on the blurb and what I knew about the author from social media, since, had I been told it was high heat earlier (or done more research), I may have reconsidered. And while I’m not opposed to high heat when done well, the inclusion of the sex here felt awkward and just didn’t feel right for me, especially since, apart from bonding over horses, they barely know each other and I didn’t finish the book feeling like this was a couple who had a firm foundation for a lasting relationship. 

There is a lot I like here, but perhaps this wasn’t the best place to start with Dahlia’s work due to my qualms with it. I do recommend it if you are more interested in high-heat contemporary romances, especially since there are several things it does do well. 

Author Bio

Renée Dahlia is an unabashed romance reader who loves feisty women and strong, clever men. Her books reflect this, with a sidenote of dark humour. Renée has a science degree in physics. When not distracted by the characters fighting for attention in her brain, she works in the horse-racing industry doing data analysis and writing magazine articles. When she isn’t reading or writing, Renée spends her time with her partner and four children, volunteers on the local cricket club committee, and is the Secretary of Romance Writers Australia.

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Review of “Storing Up Trouble” (American Heiresses #3) by Jen Turano

Turano, Jen. Storing Up Trouble. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0764231698 (paperback)/978-1493425082 (eBook) | $15.99 USD (paperback)/$10.99 USD (ebook) | 352 pages | Historical Romance/Christian Fiction

Blurb

When Miss Beatrix Waterbury’s Chicago-bound train ride is interrupted by a heist, Mr. Norman Nesbit, a man of science who believes his research was the target of the heist, comes to her aid. Despite the fact that they immediately butt heads, they join forces to make a quick escape.

Upon her arrival in Chicago, Beatrix is surprised to discover her supposedly querulous Aunt Gladys shares her own suffragette passions. Encouraged by Gladys to leave her sheltered world, Beatrix begins working as a salesclerk at the Marshall Field and Company department store. When she again encounters Norman on a shopping expedition, he is quickly swept up in the havoc she always seems to attract.

But when another attempt is made to part Norman from his research papers, and it becomes clear Beatrix’s safety is also at risk, they soon discover the curious way feelings can grow between two very different people in the midst of chaos.

In the series

#1 Flights of Fancy

#2 Diamond in the Rough

Review

4 stars

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

While this is not my first Jen Turano book, this is the first in the American Heiresses series I’ve read. However, it stands perfectly well as a stand alone, and feel like you could start here, although I am intrigued to read the previous two books in the series now.

Turano has a few different elements at play: a whimsical, often humorous, writing style, great attention to detail, and a dash of mystery, and all of it comes together, without anything really feeling out of place.

The characters are definitely the best part. Beatrix is a daring heroine, not afraid to take risks due to her suffragist views, and I admired how she was so unconcerned with what society thought. 

Norman is also interesting due to his scientific pursuits, and I liked the banter between them as their relationship evolved. 

There are some other memorable characters, and my absolute favorite is the silly Aunt Gladys. Her antics with her friends are the best part of the book.

This is a fun, light read, and while it’s not a particularly memorable read, it’s pure fun with a helping of history, which I think can be great once in a while. I recommend this to anyone looking for a good solid historical rom-com.

Author Bio

Named One of the Funniest Voices in Inspirational Romance by Booklist, Jen Turano is a USA Today Best-Selling Author, known for penning quirky historical romances set in the Gilded Age. Her books have earned Publisher Weekly and Booklist starred reviews, top picks from Romantic Times, and praise from Library Journal. She’s been a finalist twice for the RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards and had two of her books listed in the top 100 romances of the past decade from Booklist. When she’s not writing, she spends her time outside of Denver, CO. Readers may find her at www.jenturano.comor https://www.facebook.com/jenturanoauthor/or on Twitter at JenTurano @JenTurano.

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Review of “The First Emma” by Camille Di Maio

Di Maio, Camille. The First Emma. Deadwood, OR: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1948018760 (paperback)/ ASIN: B082J3JMHF | $15.95 (paperback)/$4.99 (Kindle eBook) |  326 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb

Inspired by true events

1914 – Young bride Emma Koehler dreams of a happy marriage and a simple life with her husband, but her hopes are quickly dashed by Otto’s obsession with his business. Though they become one of the wealthiest couples in the country – a fortune made on beer, mining, and hospitality – Emma is lonely in their stone mansion, unable to have children and unable to keep his attentions at home. When a tragic accident changes everything, Otto presents a new betrayal – and Emma must choose between loyalty and independence in a world that demands convention.

1943 – Mabel Hartley flees Baltimore after the war leaves her broken and alone. She answers the advertisement of a dying woman in San Antonio, with an urgent plea to come write her memoirs. In Emma Koehler, Mabel discovers astounding resilience – a pioneer who weathered personal devastation and navigated her large brewery through the storm of Prohibition. Soon Mabel realizes that Texas holds more for her than this new friendship. Romance blooms even as she’s given up on love, and an unexpected phone call gives her hope that not all goodbyes are final.

The First Emma is a moving story of love, hope, and murder that captures one woman’s journey to make her mark on history and another’s desire to preserve it. 

Review

4.5 stars

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

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up The First Emma; I only knew that I had read a previous book by Camille Di Maio and wanted to read more from her. So imagine my surprise when, after reading this compelling story full of adultery and murder, as well as one of hope, to find out it was based in truth, and there really is a Hotel Emma and Emma Koehler, her husband, and the other Emmas are all real historical people, although the details about them from the historical records are few, and they’re not exactly nationally or world famous today. 

While I definitely would have appreciated more fleshing out of the actual events surrounding the murder itself, I appreciate that Di Maio used real news clippings to illustrate this, as it provided dramatic effect and conveyed that aspect in an interesting way without the need to speculate too much about the specifics. And the times when the older Emma reflects on her past and her troubled marriage to Otto are moving, and I can respect Di Maio’s decision to not fully fictionalize her and make her the protagonist. 

The choice to have her interact with the younger visitor, Mabel, in the book was a good compromise, especially as Mabel comes from a bad family situation and is less confident in taking chances, thus giving her room to grow and learn from Emma, who managed to thrive as a businesswoman in spite of personal setbacks and her husband’s murder. 

I enjoyed this book, and I’m so glad to have met another amazing historical woman in Emma Koehler. If you love historical fiction, especially those celebrating the lesser known figures in historical records, I recommend this one highly.

Author Bio

Camille recently left an award-winning real estate career in San Antonio to become a full-time writer. Along with her husband of twenty-three years, she enjoys raising their four children. She has a bucket list that is never-ending, and uses her adventures to inspire her writing. She’s lived in Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and California, and spends enough time in Hawai’i to feel like a local. She’s traveled to four continents (so far), and met Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. She just about fainted when she had a chance to meet her musical idol, Paul McCartney, too.

Camille studied political science in college, but found working on actual campaigns much more fun. She overdoses on goodies at farmers markets (justifying them by her support for local bakeries) and belts out Broadway tunes whenever the moment strikes. There’s almost nothing she wouldn’t try, so long as it doesn’t involve heights, roller skates, or anything illegal.

She is an Amazon Bestselling author as well as a Romance Writers of America Honor Roll Inductee. Her books have won: The Beverly Hills Book Award, the Golden Quill, and been a Holt Medallion finalist several times over. They have been translated into French, Hungarian, German, and Estonian.

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Review of Her Seafaring Scoundrel (The Crawfords #3) by Sophie Barnes

Barnes, Sophie. Her Seafaring Scoundrel. [United States]: Sophie Barnes, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 979-8615103919 (paperback)/2940163568239 (ebook) | $11.99 (paperback)/$3.99 USD (ebook) | Regency Romance

Blurb

The last thing she wants is a husband…
Least of all one determined to win her heart…

Lady Cassandra has no desire to marry. But when Captain Devlin Crawford brings scandal to her doorstep and offers salvation, she cannot say no. Not with her daughter’s future at stake. So she decides to accept Devlin’s offer, provided he agrees to never being intimate with her. For although Cassandra is drawn to Devlin, she refuses to dishonor the memory of her one true love.

Devlin knows he’s made a mess, but now that it’s done, marrying Cassandra doesn’t seem like the worst idea in the world. Far from it, though it will take serious effort on his part to convince her of this. Especially since she’s never stopped mourning the man she was meant to marry over a decade ago. So once they set off on a grand ocean voyage, Devlin embarks on his greatest adventure yet—the wooing of his wife.

Review 

3 stars 

I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review.

In the cruelest of ironies, Her Seafaring Scoundrel, the first Sophie Barnes book I’ve been able to get an ARC copy of, is something of a disappointment. I don’t know how to feel, given I was also underwhelmed by the previous book, and I’m wondering if it’s me and my dissatisfaction with a lot of historical romance in the “traditional” vein, or just my growing lack of patience with books that are too light to the point of feeling directionless. 

There are the elements of a good story here. Cassandra has dealt with scandal due to giving birth to an illegitimate child after the father died before they could get married. Devlin proposes a marriage with the possibility of security for herself and her daughter, although she is still torn apart by grief. And there’s even a past connection between him and her deceased lover, which inspires guilt in him and some conflict in their fledgling marriage. 

But other than that, I just didn’t feel the spark, and while I used to love Barnes for writing on the sweeter side, I still expected some sort of heat in their romantic interactions, and there is none. 

This one was very much an “it’s not you, it’s me” sort of thing, and I hope it’s not a case of having grown out of her style. But if you love a nice sweet, low-angst historical romance, then I recommend this one.

Author Bio

Born in Denmark, Sophie has spent her youth traveling with her parents to wonderful places all around the world. She’s lived in five different countries, on three different continents, and speaks Danish, English, French, Spanish and Romanian.

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

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

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

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Review of “Love’s Recipe” by Mila Nicks

Nicks, Mila. Love’s Recipe. [United States]| Mila Nicks, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1676709541 | $2.99 USD | 241 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb

Can two strangers down on their luck discover the flavor of love?

Rosalie Underwood is a broke, recently divorced single mother. After she’s forced to return to her hometown St. Aster, Louisiana, she lands a waitressing job at Ady’s Creole Café. Life’s not done giving her lemons just yet, though. Ady’s Creole Café is on the brink of going out of business. If Rosalie hopes to recover from her disastrous marriage and keep her job, she must figure out a way to save the restaurant. But the only question is how?

When Nicholas Fontaine hires Rosalie Underwood, he doesn’t expect his newest waitress to stir the pot. He was hoping to keep up the charade he’s created since his mother’s passing. Soon he realizes that Rosalie refuses to let Ady’s fail. She cooks up a plan to salvage the business—including the part where she enters the restaurant in a food competition to generate town-wide buzz.

There’s no time for butting heads. The clock is ticking and the business is tanking. Nick’s stuck teaching Rosalie how to cook the one-of-a-kind menu. Rosalie’s trying her best to learn the delicious recipes. In order to succeed, they must come together and work as a team, but brewing feelings between them only complicates matters. Is this a recipe for disaster or a recipe for love?

Review

4 stars 

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

I’m always looking for new diverse authors to follow, and this debut romance from Mila Nicks sounded promising. It has a nice cozy small-town vibe, and a sweet second-chance romance at the center of it.

I liked the fact that both Rosalie and Nick trying their best as single parents is a central part of the story, and something that brings them together. And seeing them bond by working together in Nick’s family’s restaurant, which faces going out of business, is cute too, especially as she inspires Nick to try to save it and come out of the slump created by grief in the wake of his mother’s passing.

This book is rather light, and given some of the topics it does touch on, I did sometimes wish it delved a little more into them instead of being more surface level, but I can’t fault it too much, as perhaps the author was going for a lighter feel, and I think it strikes a pretty decent balance, especially in these troubling times, of having some substance, while still allowing the reader a comforting escape.

I enjoyed this book, and will definitely keep an eye out for this author’s upcoming releases. I recommend this if you’re looking for a nice low-angst diverse contemporary romance. 

Author Bio

Mila Nicks is an emerging romance author on a mission to pen heartfelt love stories featuring women of color. This spring, she will release her debut novel titled “Love’s Recipe.”

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 uplifting 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 “Starbreaker (Endeavor #2) by Amanda Bouchet

Bouchet, Amanda. Starbreaker. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1492667162 (mass market)/978-1492667179 (ebook) | $7.99 USD (mass market/$7.49 (eBook)  | 448 pages | Sci-Fi Romance

Blurb

THEY NEVER WANTED TO BE HEROES

Captain Tess Bailey and Shade Ganavan are still the galaxy’s Most Wanted, and with revolution in the wind and the universe on the brink of catastrophic war, the situation couldn’t be more desperate. Despite the Dark Watch scouring the known sectors for them, rebel leaders have handed the crew of the Endeavor a delicate and dangerous mission: break into Starbase 12 and free renowned scientist Reena Ahern. She’s the only one who stands a chance of tipping the odds in their favor for the first time in decades.

BUT PULLING OFF THE IMPOSSIBLE IS WHAT THEY DO BEST

The clock is ticking. But as their attraction builds and secrets are revealed, Tess and Shade must decide if they trust each other enough to execute this impossible prison break. They could change the course of history, but they’ll be risking everything… They’ll just have to tackle one crisis at a time.

In the series

#1 Nightchaser

Review

5 stars 

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

After a successful start with Nightchaser, the series remains strong (and perhaps gets even better) with its second installment, Starbreaker. It delivers on the premise of the first book, being an awesome space opera thrill ride from start to finish. The one shortcoming is that I did read book one so long ago that I remember so little of it; however it didn’t take me long to end up back in the swing of things with Tess and Shade and the rest of the crew. 

One of the things I enjoyed was that Tess and Shade are very much a couple in this one, and while there are some issues of trust  between them, it’s refreshing to not have to deal with multi-book angst of “will-they-won’t-they.” 

I liked seeing more of the secondary characters and the world as well, especially with the fact that Tess and Shade remain Most Wanted, and they’re pulling off another dangerous mission. 

This book is an absolute delight, both in its own right and as a continuation of the adventures of the crew of the Endeavor. If you loved the first book, I definitely recommend picking up this one. 

Author Bio

Amanda Bouchet grew up in New England where she spent much of her time tromping around in the woods and making up grand adventures in her head. It was inevitable that one day she would start writing them down. Drawing on her Greek heritage for the setting and on her love of all things daring and romantic for the rest, her debut trilogy, The Kingmaker Chronicles, took form. She writes what she loves to read: epic exploits, steamy romance, and characters that make you laugh and cry.

Her first novel, A Promise of Fire, won several Romance Writers of America chapter contests, including the Orange Rose Contest and the paranormal category of the prestigious Golden Pen.

Amanda is a French master’s graduate and former English teacher. She lives in Paris, France with her two bilingual children who will soon be correcting her French.

For updates and exclusives, sign up for Amanda’s newsletter (you can easily unsubscribe at any time).

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Review of “Heart’s Blood” by Alice von Kannon

Von Kannon, Alice. Heart’s Blood. Maitland, FL: MCP Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1545674581 | $8.99 USD | 480 pages | Historical Romance

 Blurb

Von Kannon, Alice. Heart’s Blood. Maitland, FL: MCP Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1545674581 | $8.99 USD | 480 pages | Historical Romance

Blurb

Captain Isaac McCallister, five years a slave in North Africa, has returned from the grave, and Salem has put out a wary welcome. It is 1803, and the village of Salem, once known only for the dark horrors of its witch trials, is now a cosmopolitan seaport, the richest city in America. Everyone in Salem knows that Captain McCallister lost his mind in the desert of Barbary. Isaac is a damaged man, looking for a reason to go on living. He finds it when he meets Eleanor Hampton, his step-brother’s daughter, an eccentric young painter living in genteel poverty on his estate along with her mother and sister. Despite the long-standing bitterness between the two families, Isaac is bewitched by this determined, gifted woman, while Eleanor is unexpectedly drawn to him. He’s not the man she expected, a coarse merchant prince who could reduce the beauty of art to the banality of dry goods. There is a gallantry in Isaac that couldn’t be snuffed out by the hell of Algerian slavery. But his unexpected proposal of marriage sets dark forces out of the past into motion, resulting in a stunning betrayal and a brutal murder. And as her passion for her enigmatic husband consumes her, Eleanor finds there’s no danger she’s unwilling to face to save her husband from the hangman.

Review

3.5 stars 

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

Heart’s Blood drew my attention due to the intriguing premise and its setting in Salem, although not during the witch trials. And while it is a bit of a slow start, there is a payoff with great characters and a story rich with historical detail.

I enjoyed the way Isaac’s arc was handled, with his PTSD from being a captive of Barbary pirates. I was a bit nervous, given I had read another book with a similar premise that did it horribly, but I think von Kannon handled it well by focusing on Isaac’s experience, and not falling into negative stereotypes about the oppressors.

I also kind of liked Eleanor, and I was particularly intrigued by the relationships between everyone due to the connection by marriage between the two than anything about Eleanor herself.

The romance as a result did feel a bit lacking, especially since it does feel a bit like instalove on Isaac’s part, and I didn’t really get what was so special about her. 

I did like this one for the most part, due to its original concept and unique setting for a historical romance, as well as von Kannon’s eye for historical detail. If you’re looking for a different type of historical romance, I recommend giving this one a try. 

Author Bio

Alice Von Kannon is an author and historian who’s written for both History and the Discovery Channel. She attended L.A. Valley College and Cal State University, and worked many years in advertising as a writer and broadcast producer. She has traveled widely in Europe and the Middle East, and has written extensively on the subject of the Barbary Wars and the birth of the United States Navy. Alice is co-author, with her husband Christopher Hodapp, of several books in the popular Dummies series for Wiley publishing, including ‘Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies for Dummies’ and ‘The Templar Code for Dummies.’ Heart’s Blood is her second historical romance, and grew out of her love for the town of Salem, Massachusetts and its glory in the age of tall ships. She presently lives with her husband Chris, landlocked in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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Review of “Gone with the Rogue” (First Comes Love #2) by Amelia Grey

Grey, Amelia. Gone with the Rogue. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1250218780 (paperback)/978-1250218797 (eBook) | $7.99 USD | 352 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

A powerful handsome rogue finally meets his match in Gone With the Rogue, the second book in the First Comes Love series from bestseller Amelia Grey.

She had an acceptable marriage of convenience. Now widowed, can this determined and beautiful mother find true and forever love?

The sinking of the Salty Dove took her husband’s life—but it didn’t drown Julia Fairbright’s courage to endure. She creates a proper life for herself and her young son. But now, the ton’s most notorious rogue is back, and how he makes Julia feel is anything but proper. She can’t deny the desires he awakens in her, even though she knows that the handsome devil will surely break her heart.

Garrett Stockton owns a successful shipping company and is rumored to have a woman on every continent and half-a-dozen in England. The truth, however, is that Garrett has but one mistress: the wide open sea. That is, until he meets Julia, whose spirit of independence matches his own. What begins as a flirtatious battle of wits turns far more passionate than either of them could have imagined. Suddenly, Garrett’s only desire is to sail into the sunset with Julia as his wife and young Chatwyn his son. But she won’t take his hand—how can he convince her that his love is real and his heart is hers?

In the series 

#1 The Earl Next Door

Review

3 stars 

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

Amelia Grey is one of those authors I like, but haven’t really had time to read a ton of. And thankfully, though I missed the first book in this series, Gone with the Rogue functions perfectly well as a stand-alone. 

This book is cute, but does suffer from an issue with pacing, where I felt like there were long stretches with not a lot going on.

 I did enjoy the element with Julia concerned for her son, and the hold her tyrannical father in law has over both of them. The trajectory of  her arc is predictable, but in a good way, and the way Grey believably resolves the situation is good.

Garrett impressed me a lot less, given that he seemed to magically forget his scoundrel ways upon becoming entangled with Julia’s situation, and he didn’t have much substance. It was definitely more her story, with him being an afterthought, whereas I’d have liked to see him have more depth.

But this is a cute story with a triumphant ending, and definitely one I’d add to any comfort reading list during these trying times. I especially recommend it if  you love a good fluffy historical romance. 

Author Bio

©2013GulfReflectionsStudioInc

Amelia Grey (aka Gloria Dale Skinner) grew up in a small town in the Florida Panhandle. She has been happily married to her high school sweetheart for over twenty-five years. She has lived in Alabama, Connecticut, New Hampshire and now lives in Florida.

Amelia has won the coveted Romantic Times award for Love and Laughter, the prestigious Maggie award for best historical and Affaire de Coeur’s best American historical award. She has been a finalist for the Golden Heart and the Holt Medallion awards which are given by Romance Writers of America and numerous other awards. Her books have been sold to many countries in Europe, Russia and China.

Amelia likes flowers, candlelight, sweet smiles, gentle laughter and sunshine.

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Review of “The Lost Lieutenant” (Serendipity & Secrets #1) by Erica Vetsch

Vetsch, Erica. The Lost Lieutenant. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-082544617 (paperback/978-0825476006 | $15.99 USD (paperback)/$9.99 USD (ebook) | 304 pages | Regency Romance/Christian Fiction

Blurb

He’s doing what he can to save the Prince Regent’s life . . . but can he save his new marriage as well? Evan Eldridge never meant to be a war hero–he just wanted to fight Napoleon for the future of his country. And he certainly didn’t think that saving the life of a peer would mean being made the Earl of Whitelock. But when the life you save is dear to the Prince Regent, things can change in a hurry.

Now Evan has a new title, a manor house in shambles, and a stranger for a bride, all thrust upon him by a grateful ruler. What he doesn’t have are all his memories. Traumatized as a result of his wounds and bravery on the battlefield, Evan knows there’s something he can’t quite remember. It’s important, dangerous–and if he doesn’t recall it in time, will jeopardize not only his marriage but someone’s very life.

Readers who enjoy Julie Klassen, Carolyn Miller, and Kristi Ann Hunter will love diving into this brand-new Regency series filled with suspense, aristocratic struggles, and a firm foundation of faith. 

Review

3.5 stars

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

The Lost Lieutenant drew my interest due to having read and enjoyed a previous novella by Erica Vetsch, and wanted to try more of her work. And while this book was a bit of a slow start for me, I ended up enjoying once I got to the second half.

There were a lot of questions for me about the setup, since there’s a gap in Evan’s memory from his time abroad serving in the army. But I enjoyed how it all came together in the end, with it tying into the situation that Diana is in taking care of the child her sister died giving birth to.

One of the things I admired immediately was Diana’s devotion to her sister and doing right by her memory. Even though her father and brother behave less than honorably at various points throughout the book, I like how she was determined to see to the child’s welfare, despite the fact that it could jeopardize her own future.

Evan is also a likable character, thrust into a situation he did not expect nor want due to his heroics: being awarded a title and being married off to a woman whose father is set against him due to the Prince Regent’s endorsement.

However, the pacing resulted in my interest flagging at points. Once things started wrapping up, I kept wondering when it would end, instead of letting myself enjoy the admittedly cute, but drwn out ending. This is mostly a “me” thing, especially as I found myself more interested in other things and having to keep promising myself I would pick this back up.

This is objectively a good book, but it was perhaps not the best time for me to read it. I do think if you like a sweet Regency romance with a suspense plot, you will enjoy this.

Author Bio

Best-selling, award-winning author Erica Vetsch loves Jesus, history, romance, and sports. She’s a transplanted Kansan now living in Minnesota, and she married her total opposite and soul mate! When she’s not writing fiction, she’s planning her next trip to a history museum and cheering on her Kansas Jayhawks and New Zealand All Blacks. You can connect with her at her website, www.ericavetsch.com where you can read about her books and sign up for her newsletter, and you can find her online at https://www.facebook.com/EricaVetschA… where she spends way too much time! 

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Review of “The Rakess” (Society of Sirens #1) by Scarlett Peckham

Peckham, Scarlett. The Rakess. New York: Avon Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0062935618 (mass market)/978-0062935625 (ebook) | $7.99 (mass market)/$5.99 (ebook) | 400 pages | Historical Romance

Blurb

Meet the SOCIETY OF SIRENS—three radical, libertine ladies determined to weaponize their scandalous reputations to fight for justice and the love they deserve…

She’s a Rakess on a quest for women’s rights…

Seraphina Arden’s passions include equality, amorous affairs, and wild, wine-soaked nights. To raise funds for her cause, she’s set to publish explosive memoirs exposing the powerful man who ruined her. Her ideals are her purpose, her friends are her family, and her paramours are forbidden to linger in the morning.

He’s not looking for a summer lover…

Adam Anderson is a wholesome, handsome, widowed Scottish architect, with two young children, a business to protect, and an aversion to scandal. He could never, ever afford to fall for Seraphina. But her indecent proposal—one month, no strings, no future—proves too tempting for a man who strains to keep his passions buried with the losses of his past.

But one night changes everything…

What began as a fling soon forces them to confront painful secrets—and yearnings they thought they’d never have again. But when Seraphina discovers Adam’s future depends on the man she’s about to destroy, she must decide what to protect…her desire for justice, or her heart.

Review

5 stars

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

The Rakess is a book that excited me ever since it was first announced, because it appeals to my love of flipping tropes on their heads, especially since I love a good scandalous woman (especially one with a cause) while I’ve long grown tired of purposeless rakes. And the fact that the book tackles the double standard of the rakish man vs. the ruined woman further excited me, due to its unfortunate continued relevance in today’s society.

Sera is an absolutely wonderful heroine, and I love how by doing the gender swap, Peckham adds nuance to the “rake” storyline to make it about the pursuit of equality. I admire how Sera didn’t let herself be defined as “ruined,” instead rebranding herself as The Rakess, and the exploration of the events that led to her ruination, while her “partner” in the escapades could go on raking his way through society without consequence was sad.

Adam is a great hero, and I like that he straddles the line of being conventional enough o have something to lose due to his involvement with Sera, but also being enlightened so it’s not just another “self righteous guy who thinks with his prick comes to respect a ruiend woman after being party to her degradation” story which I’ve unfortunately read in the past. They have common ground beyond their mutual desire for each other, but enough slight differences to make for compelling political debate.

And the supporting cast of other radical women is incredible. I particularly love Elinor, the older matron in an oppressive union which forms a backbone to Sera’s belief system, as well as playing a key role in the Society’s movements throughout the story against her husband, and Tamsin, a former friend of Sera’s who ended up in similar circumstances.

On the whole, this is a wonderful historical romance that defies convention in a number of ways. but is still 100% historically plausible, as indicated from the Author’s Note at the beginning. And with the accompanying discussion questions, this makes a great read for a romance book club looking for a meatier read, as well as any romance reader who wants a book that’s the perfect balance of topical and good fun.

Author Bio

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

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

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

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

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Review of “Seven Endless Forests” by April Genevieve Turcholke

Turcholke, April Genevieve. Seven Endless Forests. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0374307097 (hardcover)/978-0374307103 (ebook) | $18.99 USD (hardcover)/$9.99 USD (ebook) | 352 pages | YA Fantasy

Blurb

In this gorgeous standalone companion to the critically acclaimed fantasy, The Boneless Mercies, April Tucholke spins a bold and blood-hungry retelling of the King Arthur legend that is perfect for fans of Naomi Novik, Garth Nix, and Laini Taylor.

On the heels of a devastating plague, Torvi’s sister, Morgunn is stolen from the family farm by Uther, a flame-loving Fremish wolf-priest who leads a pack of ragged, starving girls. Torvi leaves the only home she’s ever known, and joins a shaven-skulled druid and a band of roaming Elsh artists known as the Butcher Bards. They set out on a quest to rescue Torvi’s sister, and find a mythical sword.

On their travels, Torvi and her companions will encounter magical night wilds and mystical Drakes who trade in young men. They will sing rowdy Elshland ballads in a tree-town tavern, and find a mysterious black tower in an Endless Forest. They will fight alongside famous Vorseland archers and barter with Fremish wizards. They will feast with rogue Jade Fell children in a Skal Mountain cave, and seek the help of a Pig Witch. They will face wild, dangerous magic that leads to love, joy, tragedy, and death.

Torvi set out to rescue a sister, but she may find it’s merely the first step toward a life that is grander and more glorious than anything she could have imagined. 

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 intrigued by the premise of Seven Endless Forests, and how it seemed to be inspired by Arthurian legend, something I wanted to lear more about. However, I found that it only loosely borrowed from King Arthur, taking names of characters and places, and to an extent, the wider mythology, with a focus on the Druids. And for the most part, that is pretty well done.

But this is a case where the comparison in the blurb to Laini Taylor proved accurate, and a double edged sword. Turcholke, like Taylor, has a very evocative writing style, and while I definitely enjoyed her style more than Taylor’s, I felt it did at times make the book feel a lot longer than it was, even though this book wasn’t that long to begin with. There were also some odd style choices in the text that constantly threw me off guard.

There’s also a large cast of characters, and I didn’t even care who most of them were, even Torvi’s love interest. Torvi also wasn’t a particularly compelling lead, although I was invested in the journey to rescue her siste to an extent, and the developments once that panned out.

This is possibly an author-reader mismatch, given my conflicting feelings about the writing style which many others listed as a positive for this book. However, if you’re a fan of poetically written fantasy with a large cast of characters, maybe you’ll connect with this more than I did.

Author Bio

April Genevieve Tucholke is the author of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, Between the Spark and the Burn, Wink Poppy MidnightThe Boneless Mercies, and Seven Endless Forests.She also curated the horror anthology Slasher Girls & Monster Boys. Her books have been published in sixteen countries, and have received ten starred reviews. They have been selected for the Junior Library Guild, Kids’ Indie Next picks, and YALSA Teens Top Ten. When she’s not writing, April likes walking in the woods, exploring abandoned houses, and drinking expensive coffee. She currently resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband.

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Review of “Somewhere in France” (The Great War #1) by Jennifer Robson

Robson, Jennifer. Somewhere in France. New York: William Morrow, 2014.

ISBN-13: 978-0062273451 (paperback) /978-0062273468 (ebook) | $16.99 USD (paperback)/$11.99 USD (ebook) | 400 pages | Historical Fiction

Blurb

A daring young woman will risk her life to find her destiny in this atmospheric, beautifully drawn historical debut novel—a tale of love, hope, and danger set during the First World War.

Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford wants to travel the world, pursue a career, and marry for love. But in 1914, the stifling restrictions of aristocratic British society and her mother’s rigid expectations forbid Lilly from following her heart. When war breaks out, the spirited young woman seizes her chance for independence. Defying her parents, she moves to London and eventually becomes an ambulance driver in the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps—an exciting and treacherous job that takes her close to the Western Front.

Assigned to a field hospital in France, Lilly is reunited with Robert Fraser, her dear brother Edward’s best friend. The handsome Scottish surgeon has always encouraged Lilly’s dreams. She doesn’t care that Robbie grew up in poverty—she yearns for their friendly affection to become something more. Lily is the most beautiful—and forbidden—woman Robbie has ever known. Fearful for her life, he’s determined to keep her safe, even if it means breaking her heart.

In a world divided by class, filled with uncertainty and death, can their hope for love survive. . . or will it become another casualty of this tragic war?

The paperback includes a P.S. section with additional insights from the author, background material, suggestions for further reading, and more.

In the series

#2 After the War is Over

#3 Moonlight Over Paris

#3.5 All for the Love of You

Review

3.5 stars

I waited a lot longer than I probably should have to read Somewhere in France. This was based on reviewers both in the romance and historical fiction communities finding fault with it, and this was the main book that influenced my confusion at the way historical romances set during the World Wars appear to be marketed to the historical fiction crowd instead. However, with book two being on sale in ebook recently, I had the urge to pick this one up and see how true  some of my assumptions about it were.

And I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. Robson comes from a background of having been engrossed in that history (her father is a World War I historian, and her interview with him is included at the end), so while a lot of what she writes about won’t be new to readers experienced in the era, it’s not her fault, given how both World Wars (especially II now) have been written about way too much in fiction. 

Lilly is a fabulous heroine, and one that exemplifies what a transitional period it was for the structure of society at the time. Readers of historical fiction and romance in earlier eras (particularly the Victorian era) will recognize the class warfare going on between her and her old money aristocrat parents who want her to marry and do nothing else, but the war affords her an opportunity to truly go off on her own and contribute to the effort in her own way, at the same time as both her brother and friend, Robbie are, whereas previously, she would likely have been barred from doing so. 

Robbie appears to be the sticking point for a few others, with people finding him “wishy-washy,” and criticizing him for his insecurity and his fear of Lilly’s mother. However, I found him believable and not pathetic at all. While I admit the romance isn’t necessarily an epic love story, he was fine as a love interest and never struck me as weak, but more human with flaws. 

This is a pretty good book, if suffering a bit from being in an oversaturated subgenre, so it doesn’t really stand out as memorable, and struggling a bit with a marketing identity crisis. However, I do recommend it for anyone looking for a bit of a lighter read that tackles the issues that arose during World War I.

Author Bio

An academic by background, a former editor by profession, and a lifelong history nerd, I am lucky enough to now call myself a full-time writer. I’m the author of five novels set during and after the two world wars: Somewhere in FranceAfter the War is OverMoonlight Over ParisGoodnight from London, and most recently The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding. I was also a contributor to the acclaimed anthology Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War.

I studied French literature and Modern History as an undergraduate at King’s University College at Western University, then attended Saint Antony’s College at the University of Oxford, where I obtained my doctorate in British economic and social history. While at Oxford I was a Commonwealth Scholar and SSHRC Doctoral Fellow.

For a number of years I worked as an editor but am now fortunate enough to consider myself a full-time writer. I am represented by Kevan Lyon of the Marsal Lyon Agency and my personal publicist is Kathleen Carter of Kathleen Carter Communications.

I live in Toronto, Canada, with my husband and children, and share my home office with Ellie the sheepdog and her feline companions Sam and Mika.

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Review of “Girl Gone Viral” (Modern Love #2) by Alisha Rai

Rai, Alisha. Girl Gone Viral. New York: Avon Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0063003989 (hardcover)/978-0062878137 (paperback)/978-0062877888 (ebook) | $27.99 USD (hardcover)/$15.99 USD (paperback)/$10.99 USD (ebook) | 400 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

In Alisha Rai’s second novel in her Modern Love series, a live-tweet event goes viral for a camera-shy ex-model, shoving her into the spotlight—and into the arms of the bodyguard she’d been pining for.

OMG! Wouldn’t it be adorable if he’s her soulmate???

I don’t see any wedding rings [eyes emoji]

Breaking: #CafeBae and #CuteCafeGirl went to the bathroom AT THE SAME TIME!!!

One minute, Katrina King’s enjoying an innocent conversation with a hot guy at a coffee shop; the next, a stranger has live-tweeted the entire episode with a romantic meet-cute spin and #CafeBae is the new hashtag-du-jour. The problem? Katrina craves a low-profile life, and going viral threatens the peaceful world she’s painstakingly built. Besides, #CafeBae isn’t the man she’s hungry for…

He’s got a [peach emoji] to die for.

With the internet on the hunt for the identity of #CuteCafeGirl, Jas Singh, bodyguard, friend, and possessor of the most beautiful eyebrows Katrina’s ever seen, comes to the rescue and whisks her away to his family’s home. Alone in a remote setting with the object of her affections? It’s a recipe for romance. But after a long dating dry spell, Katrina isn’t sure she can trust her instincts when it comes to love—even if Jas’ every look says he wants to be more than just her bodyguard…

Review

2.5 stars

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

The Right Swipe was one of my favorite books of last year, so I feel Girl Gone Viral had some big shoes to fill coming after it. And while there are things I enjoyed about this one, I didn’t feel like it had the same “spark” that the first book did.

The premise is great, especially since it does tap into both last year’s #PlaneBae controversy and Rai’s own experience the negative aspects of viral fame. And the inclusion of Katrina’s experience with panic attacks as a result of past trauma and how the experience of going viral magnified the issue was well-done.

However, the execution of the plot ends up falling flat. This is an incredibly slow burn, and it feels at times like nothing is happening. And the romance has so much potential, being somewhat friends-to-lovers, as well as the fact that he’s her bodyguard in a somewhat intense situation. However, I never really felt believed in their relationship or rooted for them.

I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I hoped, but I feel like there’s the bones of a good story here, given some of the topics it touches on. If you don’t mind a slower paced contemporary romance with a focus on the world of “modern romance” (dating apps and social media), perhaps you’ll enjoy this more than I did.

Author Bio

Alisha Rai pens award-winning contemporary romances and her novels have been named Best Books of the Year by Washington Post, NPR, Amazon, Entertainment Weekly, Kirkus, Oprah Magazine, and Cosmopolitan Magazine. When she’s not writing, Alisha is traveling or tweeting. To find out more about her books or to sign up for her newsletter, visit www.alisharai.com.

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Review of “The Virgin and the Rogue” (The Rogue Files #6) by Sophie Jordan

–9Jordan, Sophie. The Virgin and the Rogue. New York: Avon Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0062885449 (mass market)/978-0062885395 (ebook) | $7.99 USD (mass market)/$5.99 USD (ebook) | 368 page | Historical Romance

Blurb

Continuing her bestselling Rogue Files series, Sophie Jordan brews up a scintillating romance about a timid wallflower who discovers a love potion and ends up falling for a dashing rogue.

A love potion…

Charlotte Langley has always been the prudent middle sister, so her family is not surprised when she makes the safe choice and agrees to wed her childhood sweetheart. But when she finds herself under the weather and drinks a “healing” tonic, the potion provokes the most maddening desire… for someone other than her betrothed.

With the power…

Kingston’s rakehell ways are going to destroy him, and he’s vowed to change. His stepbrother’s remote estate is just the place for a reformed rogue to hide. The last thing he wants is to be surrounded by society, but when he gets stuck alone with a wallflower who is already betrothed… and she astonishes him with a fiery kiss, he forgets all about hiding.

To alter two destinies.

Although Charlotte appears meek, Kingston soon discovers there’s a vixen inside, yearning to break free. Unable to forget their illicit moment of passion, Kingston vows to relive the encounter, but Charlotte has sworn it will never happen again—no matter how earth-shattering it was. But will a devilish rogue tempt her to risk everything for a chance at true love?

Review

4 stars

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

I initially wasn’t sure if I’d read The Virgin and the Rogue, as the last couple installments of the Rogue Files were just ok, and I didn’t even bother with the previous book about this heroine’s sister, because the premise squicked me out and the hero sounded like a dick (something Sophie Jordan even partially confirmed due to a funny autocorrect mistake). However, as more details started to come out, I was intrigued by the bananas love-potion plot.

And it is bonkers, with a generous helping of cheese (how could it not, with that title?), but there is something deeper there, in the midst of the silliness and steaminess that is conveyed very well. I liked Charlotte coming to her point of self-discovery about what she really wants, both in terms of love and life, in spite of feeling forced to conform to expectations that no one but her is putting on her.

And while there were some less-flattering moments, particularly early on in his interactions with Charlotte, I did really like Kingston. His reasoning for giving up his rakish ways, seeing how it impacts women like his mother while the men like his father get away without consequences was heartbreaking. I’m glad there was a reckoning in that area, where he gets to really give his father a piece of his mind, and his father shows how uncaring he really is. I hope he and his wife (the duke’s mother) get slow painful deaths.

And while I didn’t find the start to their relationship that auspicious, especially given the whole “she accosted him while under the influence” thing, I did like the development from there. He shows more than once how he puts her safety first, even if it spits in the face of propriety.

This is a fun book that lives up to every expectation I had based on what I heard about it. If you love a sexy historical romance about a woman finding herself with a reformed (but not too reformed) rogue, then I recommend this one highly.

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 Mortician’s Daughter” (Death Singer #1) by Nan Higgins

Higgins, Nan. The Mortician’s Daughter. Valley Falls, New York: Bold Strokes Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1635555943 (paperback)/978-1635555950 (eBook) | $18.95 USD (paperback)/$9.99 USD (eBook) | 242 page | Paranormal Romance

Blurb

On the night of her twenty-second birthday, Aria Jasper discovers the family secret: she comes from a long line of people who communicate with ghosts. Now that she’s beginning to see and hear the newly dead, she’s expected to pledge her service to her father’s company, AfterCorps, and help rookie ghosts get their earthly affairs in order so they can make their final transfer. Angry about having to give up a music career that’s on the verge of exploding, Aria reluctantly begins her training.
The only other student, Sloane, is a sexy AfterCorps devotee determined to join the most dangerous branch of the organization: the Criminally Demonic Unit. As Aria and Sloane grow closer, they begin to suspect all is not as it seems. A terrified ghost claims that Aria’s father is evil and keeping her earthbound against her will. She begs for their help to cross over, but Aria and Sloane may not be prepared for the consequences of defying an organization powerful enough to exert influence in both the land of the living and the dead.

Review

2.5 stars

The Mortician’s Daughter has an interesting premise, and to an extent, it delivers on it. I was intrigued by the idea of someone who has a genetic ability to see and interact with ghosts, and I like that there’s lore to go with it, with some exploration of Aria’s family history.

I did like Aria and her journey as she uncovered all of this, although I did find her a little monotonous and overemotional. However, I didn’t feel like the romance was that well-defined, going from zero to eleven super quick, and was much more interested in the interactions between Aria and the tragic, departed Clara.

But while I thought a book dealing with death and the afterlife would be a bit gritty, it’s not really the case at all. In fact, it deals more with all the bureaucracy and red tape, and while in some ways, it helps with the world building, it wasn’t particularly interesting after a while.

However, this is the first in a series, so it’s possible it will build on some of the world building aspects in the next book or two, which I may consider checking out. I think if you like paranormal/ghost stories, but don’t mind something that’s more intricate than scary, I think it’s worth giving a chance.

Author Bio

Nan Higgins wrote her first book—a seven page ghost story about the rickety old Victorian farmhouse she grew up in—when she was ten, and has been writing ever since.

In 2018, after a lifetime of writing for pleasure, Nan finally decided to take her dreams off the back burner and set them on fire. She had written a manuscript at the end of 2017 that she thought had some potential, and began to send it to agents and publishers. The story was London Undone, and at the end of 2018, Nan signed a contract with Bold Strokes Books, her dream publisher. London Undone will be released on December 10, 2019.

Nan co-hosts Stalled, a podcast about the victories and struggles of two writers who got a late start trying to turn their passions into their profession. You can find Stalled wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Nan lives in Columbus, Ohio, and she’s grateful and proud to live in a city with such a large and vital queer community. She resides with her fiancee, Misti, two sons, Ben and Edison, and a bearded dragon named Minion.

You can contact Nan by email and follow her on social media for frequent updates.

Email: nan.higgins@yahoo.com

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

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nanhigginswrite/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/NanHigginsWrite

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Review of “And They Called It Camelot: A Novel of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis” by Stephanie Marie Thornton

Thornton, Stephanie Marie. And They Called It Camelot: A Novel of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. New York: Berkley, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0451490926 (paperback)/978-0451490933 (eBook) | $17.99 USD (paperback)/$9.99 USD (eBook)| 480 pages | Historical Fiction

Blurb

An intimate portrait of the life of Jackie O…

Few of us can claim to be the authors of our fate. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy knows no other choice. With the eyes of the world watching, Jackie uses her effortless charm and keen intelligence to carve a place for herself among the men of history and weave a fairy tale for the American people, embodying a senator’s wife, a devoted mother, a First Lady—a queen in her own right.
 
But all reigns must come to an end. Once JFK travels to Dallas and the clock ticks down those thousand days of magic in Camelot, Jackie is forced to pick up the ruined fragments of her life and forge herself into a new identity that is all her own, that of an American legend.

Review

5 stars

Like most people, I know who Jackie Kennedy is, as the wife of both President John F. Kennedy and, later, Aristotle Onassis, both of whom were philanderers, both prior and during Jackie’s marriages to each of them. But aside from the pressure to adhere to a specific image during the Kennedy marriage (and how she may have benefited) and what I had heard about her seeking security for herself and her children with Onassis following the assassinations of both her husband and his brother (with whom she’s also speculated to have had a relationship), I didn’t know what to make of her beyond the graceful fashion plate facade. With And They Called it Camelot, Stephanie Marie Thornton attempts to fill in the gaps and provide those answers with a fuller portrait of Jackie. 

The marital troubles in both of her marriages is as I thought it was, but I found it funny, given that her parents’ union was disastrous, with her vowing she would never marry a man like her dog of a father, only to end up falling in love with the faithless JFK, who did love Jackie in his own way, but in the early years in particular, I felt bad, as he strayed and she had yet to fully make peace with their issues, and it remained a sticking point, especially when a certain Marilyn Monroe entered the picture. 

I was also surprised to find out about some of the semi-incestuous family drama going on. Thornton plays coy about whether Jackie and RFK had a full fledged affair, while hinting at their bond. But she and her sister Lee seemed to have a contentious relationship, something they comment on during the novel, and Lee’s colorful love life also included an affair with Onassis prior to his marriage to Jackie, which shocked me.

Thornton’s book is just an overall engaging, immersive read, and while there are some liberties taken, most of the events, per her historical note, are representative of the events that truly happened, showing that truth truly can be stranger (and sometimes more compelling) than fiction, especially when it comes to the lives of political families and the uber rich and their myriad affairs and scandals. If you love historical fiction, especially more recent US history, and the lives of the presidents and their families, I think you’ll enjoy this book.

Author Bio

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

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Blog Tour: Review of “Lakeshire Park” by Megan Walker

Walker, Megan. Lakeshire Park. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1629727349 (Paperback)/978-1629738864 (eBook) | $15.99 USD | 256 pages | Regency Romance

Blurb

“Charming, beautifully written, and hopelessly romantic. Sure to be a new favorite!”
-JULIANNE DONALDSON, best-selling author of Edenbrooke

Brighton, England 1820

Amelia Moore wants only one thing—to secure the future happiness of her younger sister, Clara. With their stepfather’s looming death, the two sisters will soon be on their own—without family, a home, or a penny to their names. When an invitation arrives to join a house party at Lakeshire Park, Amelia grasps at the chance. If she can encourage a match between Clara and their host, Sir Ronald, then at least her sister will be taken care of.

Little does she know that another guest, the arrogant and overconfident Mr. Peter Wood, is after the same goal for his own sister. Amelia and Peter begin a rivalry that Amelia has no choice but to win. But competing against Peter—and eventually playing by his rules—makes Amelia vulnerable to losing the only thing she has left to claim: her heart.

Review

4 stars

Thank you to Shadow Mountain for providing this ARC via NetGalley, and to Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose for inviting me to be apart of this blog tour for Lakeshire Park! All opinions are my own.

Lakeshire Park is exactly what I needed at the moment, providing a sweet escape from all the horrors of the modern world and a welcome breath of fresh air after a few less compelling reads. It’s a sweet romance with an Austenesque feel, with likable characters with compelling motivations, and a beautiful romance that grows from an unlikely place.

The situation Amelia and her sister Clara find themselves in is a familiar one to experienced readers of Regency romance, but it doesn’t make it any less interesting to follow as they navigate their situation. I could relate to Amelia’s desire to see Clara well-situated with all her desires taken care of.

I also liked the development of her relationship with Peter, from that initial meet-awkward. I enjoyed seeing them banter with one another, and appreciated that, even when they were at odds, it still felt like it realistically grew into something more, with all the angst and uncertainty about their opposing purposes that went with it.

I did feel this story would have been a bit richer with Peter’s point of view as well. I liked his character from Amelia’s perspective, and would have enjoyed getting some insight into his thoughts at different points.

This is such a lovely book, and I deeply enjoyed reading it. I recommend it to anyone looking for a sweet Regency read.

Author Bio

Megan Walker was raised on a berry farm in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, where her imagination took her to times past and worlds away. While earning her degree in Early Childhood Education, she married her one true love and started a family. But her imaginings of Regency England wouldn’t leave her alone, so she picked up a pen. And the rest is history. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband and three children.

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM | GOODREADS

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BLOG TOUR BLURB:

Debut novelist Megan Walker tours the blogosphere April 6 through May 1, 2020 to share her new historical romance, Lakeshire Park. Forty popular book bloggers specializing in historical romance, inspirational fiction, and Austenesque fiction will feature guest blogs, interviews, exclusive excerpts, and book reviews of this acclaimed Regency romance novel.

LAKESHIRE PARK BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE:

April 06          The Silver Petticoat Review (Guest Blog)

April 06          Katie’s Clean Book Collection (Review)

April 06          The Readathon (Review)

April 06          Getting Your Read On (Review)

April 07          Heidi Reads (Review)

April 07          Romance Junkies (Guest Blog)

April 08          The Calico Critic (Spotlight)

April 08          Timeless Novels (Review)

April 09          Gwendalyn’s Books (Review)

April 09          From Pemberley to Milton (Excerpt)

April 10          Courtney Reads Romance (Review)

April 11          Clean Wholesome Romance (Spotlight)

April 12          The Christian Fiction Girl (Review)

April 12          English Historical Fiction Authors (Guest Blog)

April 14          Joy of Reading (Review)

April 15          The Book Diva’s Reads (Review)

April 15          Katie’s Clean Book Collection (Interview)

April 16          Frolic Media (Excerpt)

April 17          The Lit Bitch (Review)

April 18          Book Confessions of an Ex-Ballerina (Review)

April 19          Robin Loves Reading (Review)

April 19          My Jane Austen Book Club (Guest Blog)

April 20          Bringing Up Books (Review)

April 20          Austenprose—A Jane Austen Blog (Review)

April 21          Lu Reviews Books (Review)

April 22          Bookworm Lisa (Excerpt)

April 22          Austenesque Reviews (Review)

April 23          So Little Time…So Much to Read (Review)

April 24          Half Agony, Half Hope (Review)

April 25          Relz Reviewz (Review)

April 26          Bookish Rantings (Review)

April 27          Probably at the Library (Review)

April 27          Christian Chick’s Thoughts (Review)

April 28          Laura’s Reviews (Review)

April 28          Encouraging Words from the Tea Queen (Review)

April 29          Heidi Reads (Interview)

April 29          Bookfoolery (Review)

April 29          From Pemberley to Milton (Review)

April 30          The Caffeinated Bibliophile (Excerpt)

April 30          A Bookish Way of Life (Review)

May 01           Bookworm Lisa (Review)

May 01           Impressions in Ink (Review)

Review of “The Glass Magician” by Caroline Stevermer

Stevermer, Caroline. The Glass Magician. New York: Tor, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0765335043 ( hardcover)/978-146820838 (ebook) | $26.99 USD ($13.99 eBook) | 288 pages | Historical Fantasy

Blurb

Reminiscent of The Golem and the JinniThe Glass Magician by Caroline Stevermer is a magical and romantic tale set in New York’s Gilded Age.

New York 1905—The Vanderbilts. The Astors. The Morgans. They are the cream of society—and they own the nation on the cusp of a new century.

Thalia Cutler doesn’t have any of those family connections. What she does know is stage magic and she dazzles audiences with an act that takes your breath away.

That is, until one night when a trick goes horribly awry. In surviving she discovers that she can shapeshift, and has the potential to take her place among the rich and powerful.

But first, she’ll have to learn to control that power…before the real monsters descend to feast.

Review

2.5 stars

The Glass Magician is a lot of fun, as I expected it to be. I loved the integration of the magic system of the Traders and the Solitaires into class-conscious Gilded Age New York, and how effortlessly the two work together.

This is depicted through the trajectory of Thalia’s position throughout the book, beginning with a disaster caused by her powers. I enjoyed seeing her discover more about herself, the extent of her abilities, and secrets from her past. I was intrigued as elements concerning the latter unfolded, as that’s a key part of the central mystery plot.

However, the book also felt a little half-baked in some areas. The story progressed nicely, only to end too soon and on an anticlimactic note. And while there is a hint of a romance, this is another case of an SFF book that failed to develop the romance to a point where I was remotely interested.

This is a fun book, and I do think, based on what I’ve heard about the author’s previous books (particularly the series she worked on with Patricia C. Wrede) that she is a good author, and this one is merely a subpar execution of an otherwise brilliant premise, or perhaps it has the possibility to become a series and it just hasn’t been confirmed yet. I think, if you like historical fantasy, especially if you’re familiar with Stevermer’s other work, you might like this.

Author Bio

Caroline Stevermer grew up miles from anywhere on a dairy farm in southeastern Minnesota. She has a sister and two brothers. After high school, she attended Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. degree in the history of art. She knew she wanted to be a writer when she was eight years old. She began by writing stories in her school notebooks. (They were not good. Many were not even finished. She persisted.)

By the time she graduated from college, she knew she would need to earn money in other ways, but she kept on writing. Her first professional sale was published by Ace in 1980. In the years since, she has had a variety of jobs and kept on writing. She likes libraries and museums. Her favorite painter is Nicholas Hilliard. Her favorite writer is Mark Twain. She lives in Minnesota.

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Review of “The Engineer’s Wife” by Tracey Enerson Wood

Wood, Tracey Enerson. The Engineer’s Wife. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2020.

eBook | $12.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1492698142 | 355 pages | Historical Romance

Blurb

She Built A Monument For All Time. Then She Was Lost In Its Shadows.

Emily Warren Roebling refuses to live conventionally–she knows who she is and what she wants, and she’s determined to make change. But then her husband, Wash, asks the unthinkable: to give up her dreams to make his possible.

Emily’s fight for women’s suffrage is put on hold and her life transformed when Wash, the chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, is injured on the job. Untrained for the task, but under his guidance, she assumes his role, despite stern resistance and overwhelming obstacles. Lines blur as Wash’s vision becomes her own and when he is unable to return to the job, Emily is consumed by it. But as the project takes shape under Emily’s direction, she wonders whose legacy she is building–hers or her husband’s. As the monument rises, Emily’s marriage, principles, and identity threaten to collapse. When the bridge finally stands finished, will she recognize the woman who built it?

Based on the true story of the Brooklyn Bridge, The Engineer’s Wife delivers an emotional portrait of a woman transformed by a project of unfathomable scale, which takes her into the bowels of the East River, suffragette riots, the halls of Manhattan’s elite, and the heady. freewheeling temptations of P.T. Barnum. It’s the story of husband and wife determined to build something that lasts–even at the risk of losing each other.

Review

4 stars

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

I know nothing about the Brooklyn Bridge or New York (I’ve sadly never been there, but I want to), but I’m a sucker for stories about places I’ve never been for that vicarious experience, especially if there are aspects about them forgotten to history, such as is the case with The Engineer’s Wife and its depiction of Emily Warren Roebling’s contribution to the Bridge’s construction.

Emily is a fascinating woman, and it’s a shame not many know about her. She has some recognizable traits of the women of the latter half of the nineteenth century, in particularly her support for women’s suffrage, a cause she had to put aside to support her husband. And I could empathize with the increasing strain in her marriage, due to her having this grand vision for the Brooklyn Bridge, but also having the realization that her invalid husband would receive the notoriety for her work.

Some of the technical aspects were a new and a bit confusing to me such as caissons, but I did enjoy learning about the trade in general. And sometimes the pacing did feel a bit slower and less engaging, but for the most part, I found the story enjoyable, particularly as it charted the contradictions in the progress on the Bridge and the cracks in the Roebling marriage.

This is a great novel about an uncelebrated historical heroine, and I hope this book helps t finally give her her time to shine. If you love historical fiction about little-known historical women involved in major world events, then I think you’ll enjoy this.

Author Bio

Tracey Enerson Wood has always had a writing bug. While working as a Registered Nurse, starting her own Interior Design company, raising two children, and bouncing around the world as a military wife, she indulged in her passion as a playwright, screenwriter and novelist. She has authored magazine columns and other non-fiction, written and directed plays of all lengths, including Grits, Fleas and Carrots, Rocks and Other Hard Places, Alone, and Fog.

Her screenplays include Strike Three and Roebling’s Bridge.

Other passions include food and cooking, and honoring military heroes. Her co-authored anthology/cookbook Homefront Cooking: American Veterans share Recipes, Wit, and Wisdom, was released by Skyhorse Publishing in May, 2018, and all authors’ profits will be donated to organizations that support veterans.B

A New Jersey native, she now lives with her family in Florida and Germany.

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Review of The “Fallen” Series by Nicola Davidson

Blurbs

Fun fact: the Fallen pleasure club is inspired by three real-life Regency-era clubs in London. The White House in Soho Square (madam Theresa Berkley specialized in flagellation, birching, caning etc); The Nunneries in King’s Place (madam Catherine Windsor, very exclusive and a favorite of royals, MPs, diplomats, and peers); and Miss Fawkland’s Temples in St. James’s St.

Surrender to Sin

To save her, he must ruin her.

Lord Sebastian St. John, dedicated bachelor and a co-owner of Fallen, the most scandalous pleasure club in London, is known as Sin for good reason. Orphaned by a shocking accident, Sin long ago vowed a life of solitude and decadence. Yet when Lady Grace Carrington begs for his help destroying her reputation, Sin can’t turn the ton’s most proper lady away.

Obedient daughter, wife, and young widow, Grace has had enough of being controlled. After her father arranges a second loveless marriage to an eminently respectable ancient, Grace plans a fortnight of defiance and self-ruination to stop the wedding. But as Grace enters the heady, risky world of an affair with Sin, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to him— and she soon realizes two weeks won’t be nearly enough.

The Devil’s Submission

Disinherited by his parents and estranged from his wife, Fallen pleasure club co-owner Lord Grayson ‘Devil’ Deveraux long ago learned to place his trust in ledgers rather than people. But his ice-cold reserve hides the scandalous truth: he’s a man who craves pain with his pleasure, and a loving lady to instruct him.

Banished to the country when her whirlwind marriage collapsed, Lady Eliza Deveraux never knew why Grayson fell out of love with her: she’d tried so damned hard to quell her fiery self and be a proper, obedient wife. But when Eliza is forced to return to London and back into Grayson’s intoxicating world, banked passions reignite. Can a marriage built on secrets and pretense truly get a second chance?

The Seduction of Viscount Vice

Proud Scot and Fallen co-owner, Lord Iain ‘Vice’ Vissen is dedicated to performing in and producing the pleasure club’s hedonistic shows. Until the night he apprehends a rogue footman in their midst and discovers the spy is Lady Mairi MacNair—the woman who long ago broke his heart.
Born an earl’s daughter but now a seamstress, Mairi has returned to London to help open a superior pleasure club to Fallen, and finally realize her dream of being the seductive leading lady. But when she discovers her main rival is Iain, the man she loved beyond reason and was forced to abandon, she is soon caught in a web of lies, secrets, and raw, scorching passion that time hasn’t dimmed…

Review

While I read a couple Nicola Davidson novellas before, those were Tudor stories and, by her own admission, much tamer than her typical fare. And with my attention being caught by her upcoming Highland Menage books to be published by Entangled, I thought it would be a good time to get a proper taste of her style with the Fallen series. And she really can write a story, even in a hundred pages or less! She managed to make all my preconceived notions about a lot of things fall away, and even make me forget about one of my pet peeves that bothered me in other books: the nicknaming of heroes things like Devil, Sin, Vice, etc. to indicate their “depraved” nature.

Surrender to Sin (2016)

5 stars

This one is my favorite of the series. I empathized with Grace as she was suddenly facing an incredibly hostile situation of another undesirable marriage to a man who shows abusive tendencies. The way that things start off with Sin becoming her instructor in pleasure, then seeing the connection between them, as he also past dealings with the same overly righteous man, led to a wonderfully suspenseful climax (hehe).

The Devil’s Submission (2017)

4.5 stars

While this one was much less original, I did find this an oddly wonderful breath of fresh air after finishing a different marriage-in-trouble story that left me cold. I particularly enjoyed Eliza’s growth into someone who doesn’t feel the need to bend to her mother’s wishes, and instead embraces her assertiveness, in the bedroom and outside of it. And the exploration behind Devil’s sexual submissiveness was well-explored and sensitively dealt with.

The Seduction of Viscount Vice (2017)

4 stars

While this one did not capture my attention as fully as the other two, I still really enjoyed it. Mairi is another well-written heroine, and her backstory with the reason she ended up being separated from Iain was heartbreaking. It was wonderful to see Iain go from jaded to vulnerable, especially since he starts off just having seen his friends happily coupled off. And I also liked the bits of him with his family in this one, especially how he’s trying (and failing) to keep his younger sister safe and out of his club.

***

All three of these are wonderful, and great if you love an erotic historical romance. And if you just want to give one of them a try to start off, Surrender to Sin is free as part of the current massive Entangled Romance sale!

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

Buy links

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Surrender to Sin

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The Devil’s Submission

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The Seduction of Viscount Vice

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