Review of “Scandalous Passions” by Nicola Davidson

Davidson, Nicola. Scandalous Passions. Fort Collins, CO: Entangled Publishing, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1682816035 | $2.99 USD | 150 pages | Medieval Romance/Erotic Romance

Blurb

Scotland, 1504.

Lady Janet Fraser didn’t earn her reputation as Scotland’s most notorious sinner by following the rules. A former mistress of King James IV, she’s content to live her life from pleasure to pleasure. Even if those pleasures—and people—are forbidden.

People like Sir Lachlan Ross, given the moniker The Highland Beast, a man as intimidating in battle as he is in size. A beast she discovers secretly wishes to be tamed and submit to her dominance.

Or like her new ward, Lady Marjorie Hepburn, a convent-raised virgin with a desire to be taught all the sensual secrets of the marriage bed. Things that Janet is fully willing to teach her, again and again. There’s much for her to learn.

And forbidden pleasures like the three of them together in one bed.

But Lachlan and Marjorie both have ties to the king. As wicked lusts are indulged and affection unexpectedly grows into love, breaking the rules this time could mean all of their undoing…

Review

4.5 stars

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

While I’ve spoken about issues with sexual content in previous reviews, Nicola Davidson has yet to steer me wrong in this regard, so I had no fear in enthusiastically picking up her latest, Scandalous Passions, in spite of it both being completely new for me as a poly romance and also being, by Davidson’s own admission, her hottest book to date. 

And this one completely delivers. While it is category/novella length, so there isn’t as much space to go into depth with the three leads, they all still feel fleshed out. My favorite is the hero, Sir Lachlan Ross, who despite being called the Highland Beast, is definitely more my type than most Scottish Highlander heroes. I like that there’s a contrast between that warrior persona and the person he is in a romantic/sexual relationship, in which he doesn’t mind his partner(s) taking the lead. 

Janet is also wonderful, as a heroine who really asserts herself, but I like that she does have her vulnerabilities too, particularly when her past comes to haunt her as she is pursuing her new lovers. And Marjorie’s sexual awakening is beautiful.

I also really like how central each partner was to the others’ overall happiness, even if it started in a more purely sexual manner between Janet and each of them independently. There’s a turning point where Janet believes she’s making a sacrifice for Marjorie’s happiness, but they come back to her and say that things aren’t complete without her, and I really liked that, as well as the eventual realization that a permanent HEA with all three can work.

My only complaint is that this is a category/novella length book, and I wished I could have spent more time with these characters. However, either way, it really packs a punch.

I know that, given it’s erotic romance and polyamorous, it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But in my limited experience with both, I don’t think I’ve found a better book for someone with little to no experience with these subgenres to start with. And if you happen to already love both, then I recommend picking this one up. 

Author Bio

NICOLA DAVIDSON worked for many years in communications and marketing as well as television and print journalism, but hasn’t looked back since she decided writing wicked historical romance was infinitely more fun. When not chained to a computer she can be found ambling along one of New Zealand’s beautiful beaches, cheering on the All Blacks rugby team, history geeking on the internet or daydreaming. If this includes chocolate – even better!

Keep up with Nicola’s news on Twitter (@NicolaMDavidson) Facebook (Nicola Davidson – Author) or her website www.nicola-davidson.com

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Review of “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 “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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