Review of “The Countess Conspiracy” (Brothers Sinister #3) by Courtney Milan

Milan, Courtney. The Countess Conspiracy. [United States]: Courtney Milan, 2013.

eBook | $4.99 USD (or part of the $9.99 box set) | ISBN-13: 978-1937248208 | 309 pages | Victorian Romance

5 stars

As has almost continuously proven true, nothing seems to break me out of a funk like a Courtney Milan book. The Countess Conspiracy is especially exciting, given how both Sebastian and Violet’s friendship has been featured in the previous books, and how it delves into the truth behind his scholarship, a minor point brought up in the previous books.

I could not help but love Violet, as she’s the embodiment of the many women throughout history who’ve been forced to deny credit for their scientific achievements, or otherwise robbed of the credit, as Milan acknowledges in her dedication to Rosalind Franklin, Anna Clausen, and the other women who have “disappeared without recognition” (Milan, 733 and 1347 in the omnibus edition). I also felt for her as the tragedy of her abusive marriage and her attempts to become a mother (putting her own life at risk) were revealed, and how it led to her feeling like a failure.

Sebastian is also a wonderful character, and I love that, while at first I thought he was going to be a charming rake playing a role, I saw how much he cared for Violet, carrying a torch for her for years and being patient with her as she opens up to him and the possibility of them being together. And ultimately, even if at first it seemed like him agreeing to take credit for her work, he also proves to be her greatest supporter throughout.

Both Violet and Sebastian also have evolving relationships with family members that play pivotal roles in their story arcs. It was great to see the evolution of Sebastian’s relationship with his brother, and how his brother thought of him as a bit of a scapegrace, playing into Sebastian’s slightly inferior view of himself and his capabilities. I think their arc and the positive note it ends on forms a great contrast to Violet’s proper sister, who is upset with Violet’s non-traditional path once it’s revealed and wants to keep her daughter from being influenced by Violet’s forward thinking views.

However, Violet also has a complex, layered relationship with her mother. At first, she struck me as fairly traditional, and that was Violet’s assumption as well, but upon the revelation of Violet’s secret, the way her mother shows pride in Violet’s abilities and there are hints at her own intellect as well.

This is a wonderful book in a wonderful series, and I very much recommend it to any historical romance reader who has not read it yet.

Buy it here:

OR Buy the boxset:

Review of “More Than a Rogue” (The Crawfords #2) by Sophie Barnes

Barnes, Sophie. More Than a Rogue. [United States]: Sophie Barnes, 2019.

eBook | $3.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-2940156422975 | 223 pages | Regency Romance

3 stars

I’m a part of Sophie Barnes’ Ambassadors team, although I’ve always lamented I could not contribute as much as others, a state which has since changed with my ability to now read eARCs. So, in anticipation of her next release and the third Crawfords book, which I’ll likely be getting an ARC of, I finally picked up book two, More Than a Rogue. And while I did not enjoy this one as much as the first, it is a nice sweet romance between two wonderful characters, in typical Barnes style.

I admire how Griffin tries to do the right thing, even if it isn’t necessarily something he wants, like offering marriage when Emily is compromised. But the real turning point for me was the revelation of his connection to her former love interest, and the role he played in the demise of that relationship prior to even meeting her. I enjoyed seeing his growth and how he atoned for it, especially when contrasted with Emily’s conflicted feelings over what he did in the past compared to who he is now.

I could understand both Emily’s desire to experience passion and her insecurity about not being loved, leading her to be reluctant to commit, even in the midst of a potentially ruinous situation. It did lead to me being frustrated with Griffin later when he got jealous of her apparently having moved on to another man, when the situation wasn’t like that at all, which seemed incredibly melodramatic and petty.

The book felt a bit lacking in some other areas as well. There’s discussion of Griffin’s profession, but I’d have liked to see more of it in the story, beyond the brief mentions it receives. And while I’ve met many of the characters in the previous book, it was hard to remember a lot of the details of what happened, especially as far as it sets up Emily’s involvement with the Clearview children’s home.

This one is cute, but definitely not my favorite from Sophie Barnes, and not one I’d suggest for a newbie to her work. If you’re familiar with her style and have consistently liked it, but somehow haven’t gotten your hands on this one yet, then I would recommend it, especially if you’ve read the first Crawford book more recently.

Buy it here:

Review of “To the Moon and Back” by Melissa Brayden

Brayden, Melissa. To the Moon and Back. Valley Falls, New York: Bold Strokes Books, 2020.

eBook | $9.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1635556193 | 264 pages | Contemporary Romance

4 stars

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

To the Moon and Back is another Bold Strokes Books publication that I took a chance on due to the blurb sounding interesting. And upon reading, I was won over by the characters and the fun plot exploring the world of acting from the perspectives of a possibly fading star and an aspiring actress who’s mostly given up on the dream.

In Lauren and Carly, there are some familiar romance conventions with a twist, like the somewhat jaded diva Carly, being brought back down to Earth by the more grounded Lauren. They have an easily understandable attraction, bonding over their shared passion, and developing naturally into an incredibly comfortable and passionate relationship.

Along the way, they also deal with some the twists and turns life gives them as Lauren’s acting career is given a sudden second life while Carly’s continues to stagnate, even being in competition with one another at one point. I ultimately loved the resolution that allowed both of them to pursue their passions together, while both also growing and trying new experiences.

This is a cute, sweet, and fluffy romance, and just what I needed after reading (and occadsionally DNFing) some clunkers or “just ok” books lately. I recommend it to those looking for more f/f romance, and especially to those who are interested in theatre and the world of acting.

Buy it here:

Review of “The Masked Baron” by Anneka R. Walker

Walker, Anneka R. The Masked Baron. American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, Inc., 2020.

eBook | $5.99 USD | 9781524412258 | 240 pages | Regency Romance

2.5 stars

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

The Masked Baron intrigued me, between its straighforward, yet suspenseful title, to the blurb which conveyed a semi-Gothic atmosphere and a lot of intriguing questions that needed answering. Unfortunately, this book fell flat for me.

The setting is incredibly atmospheric, and I felt the evocative nature of the Black Forest was well conveyed. And the central mystery, surrounding the titular character, concludes in a satisfying way, exploring why Ellis chose to adopt the masked persona and providing closure for the demons of his past.

However, in other aspects, the story felt very confusing. Others have mentioned the story being a Beauty and the Beast retelling, but I did not find tho aside from Ellis’ overall arc. And I felt nothing for Annie, finding her more frustrating in her stubbonrness than anything else, but given my mixed experiences with Gothic heroines, this is not surprising.

I did feel like some of the secondary characters, especially the loyal servants, redeemed the story to an extent, and I think I would have liked a story exploring them and their relationship with Ellis a little more, especially since it would amplify the Beauty and the Beast connection, particularly with some of the more modern and well known incarnations.

This was a bit of a disappointment, but perhaps another reader who likes Gothic and fairytale inspired stories will like this a bit more. It seems to have garnered a mixed early reception, based on some of the reviews I read after finishing for comparison, so it’s very possible some people will enjoy it.

Buy it here:

Review of “Secret Heir Seduction” (Texas Cattleman’s Club: Inheritance #4) by Reese Ryan

Ryan, Reese. Secret Heir Seduction. Toronto, Ontario: Harlequin, 2020.

eBook | $3.99 USD | ISBN-13: 9781488062742 | 224 pages | Contemporary Romance

4 stars

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

Reese Ryan is another new discovery from the implosion in Romancelandia over last few months, and while Secret Heir Seduction is my first book of hers, I definitely look forward to reading more.

The two main characters are both interesting, both independently and as a couple. Despite not being massively into fashion or jewelry, I enjoyed seeing how Darius and Audra both persevere in their respective fields. I especially enjoyed the fact that Darius was self-made, building himself up from mostly nothing, and how this conflict informed both the past and present dynamics of his relationship with Audra.

Darius meeting and interacting with his family a bit was fun, although I definitely would have liked a bit more of it to flesh out the “secret heir” premise. I especially wanted more page time with Sophie, who serves as almost a “fairy godmother” in the story (although neither needs a makeover.

This story is quite sweet, but it definitely has some of the shorter novel pitfalls that some things could have benefited from being fleshed out a little more, although I understand why it’s not, due to the restrictions of the Harlequin series format. But if you like fun, short contemporaries, or happen to enjoy Harlequin romances (and the Desire line), this is a great one, and I recommend it.

Buy it here:

Review of “My Date With a Wendigo” by Genevieve McCluer

McCluer, Genevieve. My Date with a Wendigo. Johnsonville, New York: Bold Strokes Books, 2020.

eBook | $9.99 USD | ASIN: B084QH9H65 | Contemporary Romance

3.5 stars

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

I’ve always had mixed feelings about shifter romance, but a lot of that had to do with assumptions about the animal instincts amplifying the alphahole tendencies I hate in heroes. So, I was intrigued by the premise of My Date with a Wendigo, as I am always on the lookout for more f/f romance, and I wanted to know how that would change the dynamic.

And this is a lot of fun, putting a spin not only that subgenre, but also being an adorable second chance romance. While magical elements mingled with the real world (e.g. urban fantasy) is a hard sell for me, I loved Abigail, and how she’s navigating her identity as a monster through a support group. That, juxtaposed with Elizabeth being a (non-magical) therapist provides the groundwork for a complicated, but healthy relationship.

There are tests to the relationship, and I like how Abigail navigates being tempted by her hunger for Elizabeth, while Elizabeth finds herself wanting to become a monster herself, in order to be with Abigail. The way these two find a way to be together is ultimately sweet.

However, while this book does have a great message of acceptance at its heart, it is also a little out there and requires suspension of disbelief (as paranormal romance likely often does), and it’s ultimately more of just a fun story than anything that is really mind-blowing. If you love paranormal romance already, and are looking for something a little different with an f/f pairing perhaps you might have a different experience.

Buy it here:

Review of “Kisses and Other Scandalous Pastimes: A Winter Historical Short Story Anthology from The Romance Cafe” by Thyra Dane, T.L. Clark, Lara Temple, Riana Everly, Rachel Ann Smith, Alexie Bolton, Catherine Stein, Chele McCabe, S.L. Hollister, and Miranda Jameson

Dane, Thyra, et. al. Kissing and Other Scandalous Pastimes: A Winter Historical Short Story Anthology from The Romance Cafe. [Place of publication not identified]: Romance Cafe Books, 2019.

eBook | $2.99 USD |ASIN: B07ZJNP681 | Historical Romance

4 stars

I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review. All opinions are my own.

Kissing and Other Scandalous Pastimes is The Romance Cafe’s first foray into historical romance, with all their previous anthologies being contemporary. As such, I had a bit more awareness, even if it was on a superficial level , about what at least a couple of the authors were writing about.

As a whole, I enjoyed the diversity of the collection, as while there are a few Regency stories, there are not only a couple unique takes on that subgenre, but a few subgenres that I either haven’t read, like medieval Viking romance, or periods that tend to be relegated to the realm of mainstream historical fiction, like World War II.

One of my favorites is, unsurprisingly, Catherine Stein’s magic-infused contribution, Mishaps and Mistletoe. It perfectly captured all the elements it was going for, from holiday cheer (the structuring is just delightful in setting that tone!) to the tension of whether longtime friends will admit their love, and also perfectly displaying Andrew’s heroics as he defends Mabel from harm.

An Unsuitable Match by Miranda Jameson is another standout, taking place after the end of World War II and dealing with the conflict of Indian independence and the partition of India and Pakistan. Both Felicity and Jai are such wonderful characters that I rooted for, in spite of the obstacles from both of their parents keeping them apart, tackling racism and class/caste division.

Riana Everly’s Sweets for My Sweet is also memorable for tackling similar issues, thing time with a Jewish MC. I rooted for Daniel and Estie to have their HEA, in spite of the pressures put on her to adhere to her family’s expectations to marry within their own traditions. And it’s all too rare to find holiday romances that don’t center around Christmas, much less Chanukah, so I enjoyed reading about those observances.

As an introduction to Viking romance, Thyra Dane’s The Challenge is excellent, particularly for its hero, Eivind. I love that the story shows him atoning for a past mistake against Borghild, and in spite of some of the elements of the blurb that troubled me, he’s actually incredibly sweet and not troubled by toxic masculinity, which has become a stereotype for many similar books in the subgenre. And he has a perfect match in Borghild, a strong woman whose inner beauty radiates outward.

If Only In My Dreams by S.L. Hollister is wonderful, in that it shows that World War II, in spite of all the tragic connotations, can be romantic. I admired Lydia’s commitment to being a nurse while Jeremy served in the military, and

A Haverton Christmas by TL Clark is perhaps the best paced of the bunch, working with a bit of mistaken identity, as the still-single Lady Caroline failed to find a husband. It was delightful to observe from her perspective her meeting a mysterious, yet seemingly unsuitable man and falling for him, and then progressing to the reveal of who he really is.

Lord Wrexham’s Winter Scandal is fun, if a little predictable, and not one that will stick with me a ton, in comparison to some of the others. I did enjoy seeing two reunited lovers come back together, and was stunned at the reasoning behind Thea’ guardian’s rejection of Lucas.

Married by Chele McCabe has a lovely concept, but while it’s great to have the characters in the real life Biltmore estate and the historical elements of Birdie and Jason’s respective positions in the story, I did find the story went on a bit long with the whole process of getting married.

One of the weak spots, in my opinion, is A Test of Love by Rachel Ann Smith. I am intrigued by her other work, and noted a tie-in almost immediately to the blurbs for one of her other novellas. However, the story felt predictable, because it features a hard-to-please alphahole duke, who has a massive list of requirements for duchess, then decides (with no real reasoning) that the unsuitble woman he loves is worth it after all. I wish it had been longer for her to give him a test of love, because, as usual, these noblemen seem to do the bare minimum to make things up to the women they previously considered beneath them, and still get the girl anyway.

I unfortunately DNFed one of the stories, Deceit and Desire by Alexie Bolton. The premise was intriguing, but it failed to keep me fully invested. I don’t think this is a mark against the story per se, it just didn’t work for me.

Like the more recent Romacne Cafe collection, it has its highs and lows, and it’s possible some may be different based on personal preference. Either way, this is perhaps one of the most unique historical anthologies I’ve read, with some true gems included. If you’re a fan of historical romance, there is likely going to be something that suits your tastes in this collection. And as always with Romance Cafe anthologies, you’re also supporting breast cancer research.

Buy it here.

Review of “The Worst Best Man” by Mia Sosa

Sosa, Mia. The Worst Best Man. New York: Avon Books, 2020.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062909879 | 359 pages | Contemporary Romance

3.5 stars

The Worst Best Man is my first book by Mia Sosa, and it won’t be my last, if this is an indicator of her style. This story is a fun romance, that is infused with Brazilian culture in a subtle way, so that non-Brazilian readers can pick up on the nuances, without feeling like they’re being beaten over the head with it.

The two main characters are also great, especially Max. He has an incredibly relatable conflict of dealing with living in the shadow of his brother, and I enjoyed seeing his growth in terms of how he came to navigate different situations, especially how it informed his inner conflict about whether to pursue his brother’s ex.

Lina is also great, although I did have issues with her. I admire her for her focus on her career, especially as there’s exploration of some of the issues that went wrong in her past professional life, putting further emphasis on the importance of her thriving in her present.

However, I feel very conflicted on her decisions as far as Andrew and Max are concerned. While it is a fun set-up, even before the reveal of why Andrew really ended things, I felt like the blame was placed too heavily on Max’s shoulders…it almost felt like when women blame “the other woman” for their breakup instead of seeing that their man was a jerk the whole time. It’s even mentioned later that, in tandem with that reveal, that Lina tried to get Andrew back, but we’ve just spent chapter upon chapter of her going from hating Max (including some funny, if juvenile, moments) to falling for him, and the reveal further makes me question her intelligence.

This book is a lot of fun, but the overall premise falls flat in the second half when her motivations stop making sense. However, if you love a fun rom-com with an infusion of culture and sympathetic, yet complex characters, I think you’ll enjoy this one.

Buy it here:

Review of “Forever Hidden” (The Treasures of Nome #1) by Tracie Peterson and Kimberley Woodhouse

Peterson, Tracie, and Kimberley Woodhouse. Forever Hidden. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2020.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0764232480 | 359 pages | Historical Romance/Christian Fiction

4 stars

Note: I originally acquired an ARC via NetGalley, however was not able to review it at the time, due to a technical glitch andmy own ineptitude as I learned how to use the associated eReading/ARC sideloading technology and software. I have since acquired the print copy, but still thank the publisher for granting me the ARC and will belatedly provide my honest feedback.

I was nervous about trying more Tracie Peterson, but given I had experienced only one series of hers and heard others (especially with co-authors) have been better, I was excited about Forever Hidden, especially as the premise interested me as well. And finding out that some of the characters were based on real people Kimberley Woodhouse knows upon starting the book was a nice thing to start off the book with.

The characters, especially the sisters the series centers around, are such wonderful characters, each with their own distinct personalities, and I love that. This is in part Havyn’s romance, but she is able to share the “stage” well with Whitney and Maddy, and even her mother and grandfather. I really enjoyed the family dynamic with the grandfather wanting the best for them, especially with it being revealed that their father was a bit of a ne’er-do-well.

And while I wasn’t as sold on the romance Havyn has with John, as it felt a little underdone in comparison to the domestic drama (a complaint I had with other Peterson books), I did like the way he naturally fit in with the family, even though the others (particularly the opinionated Whitney) had some misgivings about his motives. But it helped to form a further juxtaposition of a positive male influence in their life, to contrast the failure that their father was.

Speaking of their father, I enjoyed the way his true whereabouts were handled, as it becomes a major plot point in the latter half. And given how tense things are by the end of this book, I’m curious to see how things stand going forward in the following books.

I definitely enjoyed this one more, and will be seeking out more of Peterson’s collaborations with Woodhouse (as well as some of Woodhouse’s work on her own). I recommend this to lovers of inspirational historical romance.

Buy it here:

Review of “A Counterfeit Courtesan” (The Shelley Sisters #3) by Jess Michaels

Michaels, Jess. A Counterfeit Courtesan. [United States]: Jess Michaels, 2020.

eBook | $4.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-2940163961276 | 256 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

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

Jess Michaels is yet another new-to-me author, and even though I didn’t know much about what to expect except relatively high heat going into A Counterfeit Courtesan, I ended up really loving this one. While this is the third in the series, and there is some discussion about events prior to this book, this book functions almost perfectly well as a standalone, although I do suspect there are some elements about both characters’ respective growth and some of the over-arching plot elements that would be fleshed out if you read all of them.

With her lead characters, Michaels creates two complex, layered characters who deal with issues, some of which I might find off-putting, and make them sympathetic and work well together. This is definitely the case for “Handsome” Ellis Maitland. He has a rough past, and in a lot of ways, it does shape who he is and some of the bad things he’s done. But there was something about him that I almost immediately liked, and even rooted for, in spite of these things. I could empathize with his regret for his past actions, and his growth feels authentic, even though I didn’t see him as he was in the prior books, just got mentions of it. I especially love there being one moment where he reflects on his past need to use others to survive, and how he doesn’t want to do that with Juliana.

Juliana also really resonated with me, in the sense that she’s essentially become an outsider due to a number of reasons, among them being that she’s the last unwed Shelley sister, with no expectations of finding out about the pleasures of marriage, or at least, carnal pleasure. I admired her for taking initiative and stepping out to find this for herself.

I absolutely adored this book, and hope to try more Jess Michaels books in the future. I recommend this to lovers a steamy historical romance.

Buy it here: