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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