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How to Deceive a Duke

Will the world let them have their second chance?

How many times, and in how many different ways, can a heart be broken?

A duke in disguise broke Fiona’s heart one glorious summer. She thought they would have a forever -until she found out who he was, and that a future between them was impossible.

Fiona’s life since that cataclysmic summer has been a constant struggle to survive. She is finally ready to unveil an invention that will change the lives of people everywhere. But she cannot find a way to distribute her creation. She travels to London to find financial backing and becomes embroiled in a conspiracy against the Crown.

The Duke who crushed her girlhood dreams posts her bail when she is thrown in prison for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Years later they still hold each other’s hearts, and even though every obstacle on earth seems to launch into their path, he is determined to spend his life with her. Even though his arms are the safest place she has ever known, Fiona is determined to resist him because she knows that her ignominy and notorious family will ruin his reputation.

He broke her heart once. Her family has broken her heart countless times. The world breaks her heart and her spirit every single day.

Fiona has learned that she must go her own way. Everything she has worked for comes of her blood and tears, her desperation and perseverance. She can depend on no one but herself because her journey is full of peril and hardship no one has been willing to share or look beyond.

Until him.

Just some of the reasons I loved this book:

It is a second chance romance with a couple who mean everything to each other, and are separated by a chasm of expectations and doubt.

It features two strong personalities who complement and encourage one another. Theirs is a full partnership and all the hero wants to do is ensure the woman he loves and believes in gets all of the success she deserves. Even if that means he is only in a supporting role.

A fierce STEM heroine with the courage and fortitude to banish her past and seize her future.

Plot & Setting: 5 Stars

Characters: 5 Stars

Steam: 4

Some of my favorite quotes:

“She was stubborn, immovable, and impassioned, and if he let himself spend too much time with her, there was every chance he’d weaken and toss decades’ worth of reputation management to the wind.”

“That journey taught me an important lesson. That if I wanted security, I would have to create it for myself.”

“She was barely steady before he had both sides of her face cupped in his palms, and he bent his head to capture her mouth in a kiss. It was like a burning fire after a freezing walk, a good meal after too long without food. It nourished her body and soul in a way she hadn’t known she was lacking.”

“She could stay like this forever, with nothing between them. Not even clothes. Not even space. But she didn’t have forever, and the salt of his sweat mixed with the salt of her tears until she didn’t know where she ended and he began.”

Featured

Out Front the Following Sea

One woman’s struggle for survival in the midst of persecution and seemingly insurmountable odds will captivate and inspire you.

Publisher’s Blurb:

**Shortlisted for the Chaucer Book Award**

OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a historical epic of one woman’s survival in a time when the wilderness is still wild, heresy is publicly punishable, and being independent is worse than scorned—it is a death sentence.

At the onset of King William’s War between French and English settlers in 1689 New England, Ruth Miner is accused of witchcraft for the murder of her parents and must flee the brutality of her town. She stows away on the ship of the only other person who knows her innocence: an audacious sailor—Owen—bound to her by years of attraction, friendship, and shared secrets. But when Owen’s French ancestry finds him at odds with a violent English commander, the turmoil becomes life-or-death for the sailor, the headstrong Ruth, and the cast of Quakers, Pequot Indians, soldiers, highwaymen, and townsfolk dragged into the fray. Now Ruth must choose between sending Owen to the gallows or keeping her own neck from the noose.

Steeped in historical events and culminating in a little-known war on pre-American soil, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a story of early feminism, misogyny, arbitrary rulings, persecution, and the treatment of outcasts, with parallels still mirrored and echoed in today’s society. The debut novel will appeal to readers of Paulette Jiles, Alexander Chee, Hilary Mantel, James Clavell, Bernard Cornwell, TaraShea Nesbit, Geraldine Brooks, Stephanie Dray, Patrick O’Brian, and E. L. Doctorow.

Excerpt:

Owen looked toward the woods to Ruth’s grandmother’s halfhouse tucked out of sight,
and felt Ruth’s eyes follow his lead. “I must be off to the marketplace to pick up a barrel of oats
from Willemszoon’s. Then, quick to the dock to rally deserters.”
“I have to go back to the carts, too, much as I dread it. Copernicus is hobbled there.”
“You rode him into town? Sakes, you really don’t want friends, do you. Walk with me,
then.”
He splayed his hand in the direction of the marketplace as they left the marshy meadow
that connected the harbor dock to the edge of town. The row of Dutch houses loomed, and the
slow churning of the mill wheel made a grinding whine, followed by a clunk at the end of each
rotation. He felt his breaths synchronize with it. A young woman, too close to the harbor for
modesty’s sake, stared hard at him beneath her starched, triangle-flapped bonnet, until an elder
scolded her loudly and dragged her back to the row of houses. The mill wheel continued its
whine-clunk, whine-clunk.
“Have you thought on what you’ll do if I can’t come back?” he said quietly.
“How have I had time to think on it? This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
“Well, then, have you thought of what you’ll do if this winter is too hard? How much
longer can we keep meeting like this before your reputation is questioned and we’re not just a
couple kids getting reacquainted anymore?”
“My reputation? Questioned?” She rubbed her swollen knuckles and gasped deeply.
“Heavens, no. What will they think of me? Do you think there will be rumors? Perhaps wooden
rods? My, what if they prejudge my character?”
He smirked. “You should go get married, Ruth.”
She stopped.

“Find a warm house to move Grand-maman into, get some of the burden of providing off
my shoulders.” He didn’t notice that she’d stopped.
“Who else would marry me?” she retorted too loudly behind him, not caring that the
Dutch women of the vegetable carts could hear every word. She marched up to him. “Don’t tell
me to go get married as if it’s that easy.” Her arms flailed like an injured bird. “Look at me!”
He did look at her, always did. Mud didn’t hide her.
“I can’t trade a parsnip! Or shall I remind you of that day when you—”
“Cease.” His eyes flashed, then darkened. He didn’t need to remember what never left his
mind. “I didn’t come here for that. Let the past have the past.” He had the good grace to look
away. “You’re a stubborn one, Ruthie. It’s no wonder no man’ll have you. I’d be like to find his
body floating facedown at sea, closer to me than he ever got to you.”
“Hmph, go get married. No one in this town would have me.”
“Then get out of this town.” He ignored the hollowness of his advice as he entered Mr.
Willemszoon’s shop. He focused instead on oats. A load much easier to lift.

My Review:

“The frailty of thought against the obstinance of time. I wish…I wish I could hold it. But it goes before I can reach it. “

Colonial New England was brutal and unforgiving for those who challenged tradition or questioned their roles or the social yokes that bound them.

Ruth refuses to be bound. She has known nothing but heartache, loss and sorrow in her short life. She suffers constant cruelties, both petty and large, in her struggles to feed and clothe she and her elderly grandmother. Orphaned at a young age and branded as a witch, the townsfolk show her no mercy or kindness, but instead constantly demonize and chastise her.

Ruth is resilient. Though she rails at the injustice of her situation, she finds solace in her friendship with Owen. He brings her cherished books from his sea travels, and they expand her world and her mind. He becomes her port in the storm when she narrowly escapes death.

But there are terrible secrets between them. There is a legacy of shame and guilt they must overcome. Circumstances continuously conspire to separate them, and toss them about like victims in the midst of a tempest.

They must hang onto the fragility of their love against all odds, and hope for a future together.

Ruth and Owen’s story paints a stark picture of the capacity for human compassion when it is pitted against a thirst for survival. It is an unforgettable glimpse into the strength of one woman’s spirit in the face of adversity, and a not-to-be-missed, meticulously researched story about life on the fringes of colonial America.

Highly recommended if you love Nancy E. Turner’s My Name is Resolute, Sara Donati’s Into the Wilderness series or Gabaldon’s Outlander series.

Author Interview

1. What inspired you to use this particular setting for ‘Out Front the Following Sea’?

I have always been fascinated by the 1600s in early America, especially as it’s a time that’s so often overlooked and forgotten. People are obsessed with the American Revolution and the American War of Independence, but they seem to forget that there was a lot of time before that, building up to it, and they have many preconceived notions about what the “Before Times” were like. As an avid researcher of this time period, with a particular affinity for the wildness and uncertainty of the 1600s, I’m here to bust myths about what you think you know.

2. What parts of the story were the most fun and the most challenging to write?

Val, my not-what-you’d-expect Quaker, was probably my favorite to write. He bucks the norm, is fun in and of himself, and really forced me to think about hypocrites in a softer sense—people who are just human and are far from perfect, even when they espouse a set of rules to live by that they, themselves, are not following. The most challenging part to write, I’d say, was the scene of the ship in the storm. I love ships, but I’m not a nautical expert, so I had to learn a ton, study a bunch of illustrations, and tiptoe around the areas that weren’t comfortably within my research wheelhouse.

3. Which character is your favorite and why?

Everyone who’s read the book will balk at this answer, but Sam is my favorite. He’s the antagonist, but he’s very gray-area, with some goodness in him. He’s very much a product of his time, and in some other timeline, he might have been the hero of his own story, but he gets pushed too far out of his comfort zone in Ruth’s story, and he can’t quite contain his own hubris. While some of the characters are able to redirect their emotions into other endeavors and healthier outcomes, Sam lets his emotions entirely consume him.

4. Are there any further readings you would recommend to readers interested in reading more about this historical period?

I read extremely “boring” stuff to the non-researcher, but what I would recommend would be nonfiction: ‘King William’s War: The First Contest for North America, 1689-1697’ by Michael G. Laramie will tell you a little bit about the background war going on in my book. As for fiction, perhaps ‘The Heretic’s Daughter’ by Kathleen Kent, ‘Beheld’ by TaraShea Nesbit, or classics like ‘The Crucible’ and ‘The Scarlet Letter’ might be a good place to start.

5. What are the top 3 things you hope readers take away from your story?

1.) You don’t know everything you think you know about the past. 2.) Times were not “simpler” at any other point in history than they are now, despite what folks with rose-colored glasses would like to think—nor were historical times “romantic,” unless perhaps you were some rich king’s firstborn son (though, if that’s the case, you were probably actually very bored and had to marry someone you didn’t really love, in order to join kingdoms). 3.) Don’t time-travel back to the 1600s for fun—you won’t make it through your first winter.

6. Do you have anything else in the works?

My second novel, ‘Falcon in the Dive,’ a story of survival during the French Revolution, has just been picked up by Regal House for a spring 2024 release, and I’m currently frantically researching the War of 1812, in order to finish an alternate-history trilogy that I’ve started, giving “the forgotten war” a new ending. Writing alternate (or alternative) histories is entirely new to me, as a staunch researcher working within the parameters of what actually happened in history, so … we’ll see how it goes!

Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of Out Front the Following Sea by Leah Angstman!

The giveaway is open to the US only and ends on February 4th. You must be 18 or older to enter.

https://gleam.io/11ucO/out-front-the-following-sea-blog-tour

Featured

Duke Gone Rogue

She’s the queen of committees and he can’t afford to be sidetracked.

I absolutely devoured this unconventional historical romance.

Maddy is the queen of committees and the linchpin of her community’s social calendar. She is also trying to keep the business her parents left her afloat. She’s juggling so many things – and her carefully constructed world can’t handle finding room for the temptation that is the implacable Duke of Ashmore. Her determination to keep her distance proves futile, as circumstances throw them together. She discovers the wry humor that lurks beneath his steely demeanor, the love of kittens that he disguises with his ducal propriety, warm encouragement and incomparable hugs, and an incredible ability to listen to her thoughts and fears and offer sound, caring advice.

Will is a man who knows what his responsibilities are. His father’s peccadilloes and penchant for destruction wrecked the family’s reputation and coffers. He has to keep an iron rein on his emotions, and remain constantly attuned to any rumors that will skew his sisters’ chances for successful marriages. He has been called cold, haughty, arrogant and untouchable. But the capable, insightful botanist he exchanged banter with in a conservatory utterly decimates his defenses.

Rowing lessons, walks in the rain, and baring their deepest fears to each other lead to a feetfirst plunge into the shark-infested waters of an affair that has a time limit. They know that what is between them cannot last — they have separate lives in completely different parts of the country, and a long-term connection isn’t something they can consider.

But love always finds a way to bloom and prosper, and this happily-ever-after stole my heart.

5 Hallelujah Stars!!!!

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The Rebel and the Rake

All bets are off when their walls come tumbling down…

“You’re wrong.” He moved his hand to caress the soft curls gathered at the back of her neck, and she pressed into his touch. “I’ve been avoiding you these last few days. I told myself it was for your protection. That it wouldn’t do you any good if people thought I was paying you particular attention. But I was also protecting myself,” he added softly.

She’s in hiding. He’s undercover.

It should be a match made in heaven. But it feels more like a headfirst dive into bad decisions and decadence. Neither one of them can afford to blow their cover.

Sylvia endeavors to be inconspicuous. Her colorful past has left her with few choices, and her current position as personal secretary to an overly perceptive employer, means she has no choice but to blend into the woodwork. Despite her concerted efforts to escape notice, she immediately catches the eye of the notorious womanizer and rakehell Rafe Davies.

Rafe is at this houseparty for one specific reason. He’s here to ferret out secrets and plots against the Crown. His devil-may-care, studied nonchalance, is the perfect way to throw the scent off his trail and cloak his true intentions. But the inobtrusive secretary unfailingly draws his gaze every time they are in a room together. It’s a dangerously combustible compulsion he needs to quell before she becomes too big of a distraction.

Despite his determination to avoid Ms. Sparrow, Rafe finds himself sharing confidences with her that reveal he is a multi-faceted man, with more on his mind than parlor games and boudoir assignations. She is intrigued, but wary of his intentions. And then like a besotted fool, she gives him a glimpse into her distrust of the male half of the species. And then she is at pains to avoid his gaze, as it seems he is irrevocably drawn to her.

They begin to seek out each other’s company at every opportunity. They are irreverent of the danger their connection poses, and the fact that their true selves are revealed one painstaking layer at a time. Their first kiss happens in the quiet of the library. And the flame is ignited.

I absolutely adored the second book in the League of Scoundrels series!

Plot: 5 Stars

Characters: 5 Stars

Steam: Off the charts!!!!

Featured

Christmas in Rose Bend

Nessa has too much going on in her life to fall in love with the hot carpenter…..

My Review

The past doesn’t really stay in the past. It influences everything we are…..

When Nessa and her orphaned teenage half sister head to Rose Bend courtesy of a posthumous legacy from their father, their relationship is rocky and full of landmines. Nessa is trying to pick up the shattered pieces of her life — her career is a fractured mess and she feels rudderless. And even though she wants to run her hands over Wolf’s sexy scruff and broad shoulders when she meets him, any relationships are taking a backseat to her self-imposed hiatus.

Wolf is captivated by Nessa’s confidence, curves, and the sadness he can see in her eyes. She tries to hide her struggles from the world, but he has demons of his own, and feels an immediate connection.

Wolf is determined to give Nessa a glimpse of the magic that is Christmas in Rose Bend. They bond over sleigh rides, cookie decorating and tree lightings. And every moment they spend together emphasizes their inability to stay away from each other.

As Wolf tells her, they are the same – two people desperately pushing others away, afraid to let others see beneath the surface, dirty street fighters who find each other irresistible.

I absolutely adored this contemporary holiday romance about two people who have been battered by the world finding their way back with each other.

This made me laugh out loud like a hyena, swoon over all the lumberjack vibes, and tearily connect with the characters’ struggles. This was my first book from this author – but it definitely won’t be my last!

Plot: 4 Stars Characters: 5 Stars Steam: 5 Bonfires

My favorite quotes:

“I know. My man bun and my Yoda-like tendencies annoy you.”

“We’re two people finding ways to push others away, so we’re not hurt. So they don’t dig below the surface and glimpse who we try so f***** hard to hide, afraid they might not like who they see. We’re dirty street fighters, you and me.”

“It’s all a case of mind over matter. You shouldn’t mind because they don’t matter.”

“Hope can be a dangerous thing, can’t it? Sweet and beautiful one moment, cruel and ugly the next.”

“War is … hell. On the men and women who serve and put their lives on the line for us, for our country. On their families, who sacrifice and have to wait at home not knowing if they will ever see their husbands, wives, daughters, sons, mothers or fathers again. They’re heroes, too, and it’s unfair that those soldiers are sometimes the martyrs, as well.”

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Must Love Cowboys

These sexy cowboys will knock your socks off!

4.5 ⭐️

I loved these two modern cowboy romances!

Must Love Cowboys features a librarian heroine- one of my fave tropes😍😍😍- and a dyslexic hero who seeks her out for reading lessons.

Beau has muddled through his entire life. He avoids things like text messages and contracts and anything that will reveal his learning disability. When his brother decides to move away, Beau is forced to address the issue he has buried for so long.

Alice agrees to tutor Beau if he’ll tutor her in return. She needs to learn to flirt so she can find her HEA. All of her friends are settling down with their sweethearts and starting families and she feels like her life is on eternal hold.

Beau and Alice’s mutual lessons quickly spiral out of control and their fake dating arrangement becomes all too real.

Plot: 4⭐️
Characters: 4⭐️
Steam: 🔥🔥🔥🔥

Big Bad Cowboy is a rivals to lovers, fake dating live story that will make your toes curl!

Maggie is always just one of the guys. But she has always had a crush on JD- the town’s golden boy and one of her best friends. Tired of trying to get his attention she decides to change tactics. She dresses up for the Halloween party like Red Riding Hood on the prowl and ensnares a hungry wolf. When the heat between them on the dance floor leads to a HAH rendezvous in a tool shed, she is both embarrassed and mystified. They keep their masks on the entire time.

Travis can’t stop thinking about Little Red Riding Hood. He can’t afford distractions- he’s trying to pay the back taxes on the family ranch, take care of his newly orphaned nephew and clean up the mess left behind by his incarcerated brother.

Maggie and Travis are thrown together when they land the same landscaping job. Maggie is drawn to him even though they are business rivals. He is drawn to her even though his time in town has an expiration date. But they are both in another relationship that has off the charts sexting.

The snafus get sorted once secret identities are revealed.

Features:
A HAH mind- blowing sex in a tool shed meet cute.

Plot: 4⭐️
Characters: 4.5⭐️
Steam: 🔥🔥🔥🔥.5

Featured

Mistletoe Motive

The perfect Grinch vs. Buddy the Elf holiday romance with demi-sexual, spectrum and T1D representation!

THIS WAS UTTER PERFECTION.

Jonathan and Gabby’s story is the You’ve Got Mail/ Hating Game mash-up holiday romance I didn’t even know I needed. I suspected their secret identities early on and was so happy my suspicions proved to be true.

Gabby loves Christmas. And she’s convinced her surly co-worker is the Grinch incarnate. She doesn’t trust him, or his motives. She’s convinced his chief objectives in life are to antagonize and sabotage her.

But attitudes can be deceiving – and they can hide a multitude of insecurities, deeply personal struggles, and heartfelt wishes. When a kiss in the snow upsets everything they thought they knew, and looses them from their moorings, it’s impossible to take a step backward.

They are in the middle before they even know they’ve begun. Watching them tumble into complete, incandescent happiness was wonderful.

Plot: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Characters: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Steam: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥

Featured

Mistletoe Christmas

An irresistible collection of four holiday romances that will make even the most irascible Grinch smile!

5 Stars

This anthology featuring stories by Eloisa James, Janna Macgregor, Christy Caldwell and Erica Ridley is fantastic.

The stories are all intertwined vignettes that feature couples just trying to muddle their way through the house party of the year – the Duke of Greystoke’s annual holiday revel. A house party that has the well-earned reputation of making the matches of the year between the unlikeliest of couples. A house party with well-earned accolades for scandal and daring assignations.

In Eloisa James’ A Mistletoe Kiss, Cressida is trying to reconcile herself to the fate that waits for her when her father dies. For years, she has manipulated events behind the scenes. She manages the household and plans the incomparable annual party, down to every minute detail of the guest list and the stunning ice sculpture. Her father doesn’t acknowledge her efforts, and constantly disparages her for her spinster status. When her father reveals that she is giving his heir the Scottish estate that she has been depending upon as her forever home, she loses all hope.

When Elias realizes that Cressida is the mastermind behind the revelry, he is incensed on her behalf. He is even more incensed when his best friend, and the heir to the dukedom, offers Cressida to him on a silver platter. She has the reputation of a retiring mouse, blending into the woodwork. Accommodating and subtle and inobtrusive. But the real Cressie is none of those things. The more they are drawn together, the more Elias appreciates the diamond that has glittered beneath the notice of society for years.

In Christy Caldwell’s Wishing Under the Mistletoe, an engagement long severed brings a once affianced couple into close proximity. Cyrus has long regretted the loss of Isabel. Isabel still mourns the way Cyrus buried himself in his obligations, to the exclusion of anything that was not adding to his coffers.

When Cyrus and Isabelle are tasked with arranging the annual Christmas play, long ignored resentment comes to the forefront. Isabelle needs this production to be successful. It will be the star in her crown so she can launch her own career. She can’t allow her former fiance to distract her with his solicitous behavior, and hot gaze and the silver streaks at his temples. The fire that has always been between them simmers to the surface, and a reckless embrace in the music room makes it obvious there is still something between them.

In Janna Macgregor’s Compromise Under the Mistletoe, an estranged marriage gets a chance at redemption. Caroline left her husband last year. She was tired of him ignoring her. She was tired of being the last person he thought of, of having no connection outside of the bedroom. She left him because he valued his prize cow more than he valued her.

Stephen doesn’t understand why his wife left him. He was doing everything he could to provide a safe and stable home for her. He gave her his undivided attention in the bedroom and gave her the space a woman needs to manage the household affairs. When they are thrown together at the annual revel and tasked with finding the perfect tree, they have nothing but disappointment and pain between them. They learn that the misunderstandings between them are because they both had assumptions about what a marriage should be and how they should behave toward one another. A serendipitous snowstorm reminds them why they fell in love, and gives them hope for the future.

In Erica Ridley’s Mischief and Mistletoe, Louisa struggles to maintain her social facade. She wants a family of her own, but is beyond weary of empty platitudes and hypocrisy. She is a dreamer and a poet. She wants a meaningful connection, not a typical society alliance.

Ewan is appears to be a brooding poet. But he will also be at the helm of the family business. Because of his lack of title and ready funds, women don’t seek him out. When Louisa approaches him, he is bewildered. He isn’t the usual object of pursuit for marriageable young women. And he has secrets that he can’t share. But he can help the woman who enchants and enthralls him pursue her dreams.

They are both defined by their duty to their families, but they let words and the opportunity to drop their shields with one another become both an escape and a home for their hearts.

Pick this wonderful anthology up if you need four perfect servings of steamy, decadent holiday cheer. Trust me — you can curl up with these pages!!!!

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The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels

Mind your manners AND your weapons…

I loved this book so much!

Here are the reasons why:

1. The mishmash of a steampunk/magical plot.

2. Lady pirates who sail houses and are the most accomplished ninja-like burglars in the world.

3. A zany, crooked, winding series of adventures that make it seem as if fate is conspiring to bring the hero and heroine together.

4. A swashbuckling hero who is a complete goner for the heroine– despite the fact that she is his target.

5. A resourceful, self-sufficient heroine who rescues the kingdom with signature aplomb and decorum.

There are many other reasons why I love this book! It is an ode to both feminism and the suffragette movement, and will contemplate nothing less than partnerships based on full equality. It has hidden satiric kernels that poke fun at the overwrought ridiculousness that Gothic literature can sometimes employ. It has a poignant, witty, wry, lyricism that manifests with sparkling dialogue and innuendoes. And last but not least, many nods to classical literature- including Austen, the Brontes, and Byron.

I highly highly encourage you to read it! Especially if you love fiercely feminist reimaginings in the vein of Gail Carriger, Evie Dunmore and Elizabeth Everett.

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After Dark With the Duke

“Miss Wylde in the sitting room feels like . . . when you open up a window on a spring day, and in comes a breeze and birds tra-la-la’ing their heads off. And the duke . . . I suppose he’s like the first frost, ain’t he? And the first frost ain’t a bad thing. It’s just a very different thing. So I don’t know what kind of weather we have in the sitting room at night.”

Five Hallelujah Stars. I have now read it 8 times cover to cover.

He’s an icon and a hero. He’s revered and feted and admired. He has the gratitude of the entire British Empire.

But he’s also a man. No one seems to remember that. He wants human connection and sincerity and to be seen for his heart – not just his duty and his accomplishments.

She has clawed her way to a place in the world with drive and ambition, she is self-made. But her world has just crumbled beneath her and she is now the object of society’s derision and gossip. Her career is at an end.

What happens when the iron control that dominates every aspect of your life is finally breached? What happens when all of the emotions you have buried beneath a mask of implacability finally clamor to the surface? What happens when all of the hopes you surrendered finally stir once more? James and Mariana are about to find out.

He is as immovable and impacable as the sun- all of his admiring minions bask in his orbit like flies. He bears the standard against which all other men are measured. He has built his life as a leader of men, and, if his countrymen are to be believed, his fortitude, cunning and honor singlehandedly won the war. He was bestowed land, wealth and a ducal title for his bravery.

She is a woman trying to survive in a world built on innuendo and gossip. She has ascended through the ranks of the entertainment world by virtue of her voice and her beauty. But they are not enough to save her from the malicious nature of the aristocracy. She has become the scapegoat for their ridiculous foibles and insecurities, and lands at the Palace of Rogues with nothing to show for her glittering success.

But the Grand Palace on the Thames works its own miracles. It burrowes beneath the skin of its residents. It makes them aware of their vulnerabilities and opens their eyes to truths long denied.

James is the one man who seems impervious to her. He treats her as if she is beneath his notice, something to be scraped from the bottom of his shoe and then ignored. But Mariana craves his acknowledgment. A sly parlor game sparks emnity between them, and he deliberately wounds her feelings – using her naïve bravery against her. His attack is beneath him- and unforgivable in the eyes of his hostesses. They demand he make amends.

Mariana has always wanted to learn the meaning behind the arias she has memorized. When the glacial duke offers to teach her Italian as an apology for his abominable behavior, she accepts. The daily lessons become a very different sort of battle.

He battles the urge to absorb the impact of her beauty every time she crosses his threshold. She battles the urge to steal glances at his rugged profile while he is focused on his correspondence. They tiptoe over coals with one another. Coals that are precariously suspended above a shimmering, simmering, treacherous pool of molten lava. Lava that will forever alter their essence and purpose if they dare to take the plunge.

When they finally kiss it renders their foundations into nothing but dust and rubble. When they finally begin to see each other clearly – beyond masks and cloaks and the judgment and opinions of others – there is no turning back.

This is a love story about second chances and conquering heartbreak. It is a love story about two people so contained in their aloneness, they cannot fail to recognize the stark heart of isolation in each other. It is a story about self-acceptance, self-forgiveness and finally laying down one’s guard enough to realize that contentment is not enough. It is ultimately about the realization that we are all entitled to, and deserving of, happiness.

Some of my favorite quotes:

“Then again, he was still a man. Wasn’t he? Even if he was orders of magnitude more potent in real life than other men? She had not yet met one she couldn’t ultimately decipher. They’d all thus far regrettably proved the same beneath the skin, even if this one’s skin was made of battered steel plate, granite, and meanness.”

“He liked having people about, even if he didn’t necessarily want to talk to them. Strangers were often too deferential or too fawning or too mutely rapt. His own tendency to abbreviation—some might call it abruptness—born of being accustomed to barking orders, and a sense that time and life were so precious one ought not spend them listening to nattering—didn’t help.”

“Knights, queen, king, bishops . . . why are no pieces named for dukes?” “It does seem an oversight,” Mariana mused. “I think because dukes would ruin the fun for all the other pieces. You see, dukes could only go in very straight, narrow lines, so they would disapprove greatly of the bishop for having the nerve to do anything so original as move diagonally.” Dot laughed. “What else?” “And then . . . the duke would be able to tell all the pieces on the board what to do, because only the duke would know, of course. And no one would ever win a game. Let alone enjoy one.”

“Miss Wylde in the sitting room feels like . . . when you open up a window on a spring day, and in comes a breeze and birds tra-la-la’ing their heads off. And the duke . . . I suppose he’s like the first frost, ain’t he? And the first frost ain’t a bad thing. It’s just a very different thing. So I don’t know what kind of weather we have in the sitting room at night.”

“Very well. We have established I am a castle and you are in a fortress surrounded by free-roaming sheep. We have a sense of each other now, I believe.”

“I should think life is operatic enough without introducing an additional element of absurd drama, let alone a drama one pays to see. I keep a box at the opera but I do not use it. My son does.” “Fair point, your Grace. It’s just that one person’s absurd drama, as you put it, might be another person’s matter of life or death. And not everyone prefers their waking lives to their dreams.”

“She wanted another one of those smiles the way she’d wanted another sip of champagne that fateful night. And what did that say about her? Both were potent. Neither was wise.”

“Every one of those smiles were like a swift peek through a crack into the earth at something molten.”

“Because this space began to fill with an awareness that felt anything but safe. She supposed that was all her own doing. He sank into her imagination the way the sun from the window warmed her skin. She memorized the interesting cragginess of his face. She estimated that his shoulders were about twice the width of her own. And when she thought about it, the entirety of her skin seemed to hum with restlessness, imagining how it might feel . . . be to covered with the entirety of him.”

“How difficult would it be to find and keep one’s bearings in life when the road wasn’t at all defined? When life came at you as though you were a moving target? When one was falling, the reflex was to flail out for any steadying handhold, he supposed.”

“If it helps at all . . . given that I’ve been so helpful thus far . . . life is cheap and fragile, but ultimately it’s all we’ve got, isn’t it, when we have nothing else? And that makes it such an outrageously precious thing that we’ll do anything to preserve it. It’s quite the paradox. It’s a wonder we’re entrusted with it at all, given how easy it is to lose. And fate can make ridiculous rag dolls of us at any time, even the wisest of us. Even kings and dukes. But when you realize no one is exempt from the caprices of fate, well, that’s the greatest gift of all, I think. A good humbling early on is marvelous for building character.”

“Losing men never became rote, for me, Miss Wylde. Every one of them, I think, is scored somewhere on my soul. Assuming I still possess one.” He tipped the corner of his mouth. It was yet another thing he’d never said aloud to anyone. Her face suffused with that ache again, which she quickly disguised. “Just as some women are made to hold an audience captive with their voices, some men are built to withstand war. The more you endure, the more you can endure. Until one can easily bear weights—troubles, responsibilities, grievances, deaths, triumphs—that look to someone on the outside inconceivable. It happens over time. I was the one able to do it.” He paused. And said, quietly, “So I did it.” He had not ended that sentence with, until all you’re doing is enduring.”

“He had never before felt so full of things that he could not form into words. And he supposed that was the point of operas and sex, so that you could feel and communicate things you could never say.”

“If they could only see the way Mariana looked at him at night. That welcoming, fiercely joyous, tender, almost too-open generosity. Take all you need, she seemed to say. He hadn’t known. He hadn’t known what he’d needed. Or that he’d needed so much.”

“There was a part of him that battled the pleasure, and she understood. To be so wholly owned by it, to abandon yourself to the mercy of desire, to another person’s mercy—it wasn’t in his nature to surrender. But the deep and molten seam of passion was in his nature. And the primal hunger was. And the gift he had for giving pleasure was. He understood pleasure the way he understood war.”

“He felt ferociously protective of this small, lush, velvety, feral, gentle, generous person. How dangerous, in some ways, it felt to just hold her.”

“As he lay there in that empty room, he had a much better understanding of loneliness, because with her he had, for perhaps the first time ever, been so blessedly, blissfully not alone.”

“Though, like a feature of a landscape, say, a mountain, she could always feel his presence even when he was nowhere within her line of vision. She had a terrible suspicion that he would be a feature of her landscape for the rest of her life.”

“The truth lay in the contrasts. If what approached at the thought of losing her was desolation, then whatever he felt for her was precisely the opposite of that. He had known more than one defeat in battle, but defeat was just a tool he’d used to learn to become victorious. He would never be accused of being an optimist, but he was indomitable. He’d experienced grievous losses and blows and struggled to his feet again. It was what a warrior did. But nothing in his experience was of use to him here. Desolation was not an enemy army. It was more like a looming shadow, or a creeping mist. He couldn’t grasp hold of it with logic. He couldn’t conquer it with strategy. His power and influence were as nothing in the face of its inexorable approach.”

“Some types of loneliness had only one cure. He was hers. She was his.”

“Funny isn’t it?” She sniffed. “You’re a bloody hero and you’re used to ordering legions what to do. And your reward for that is that you’re at the mercy of legions now. Brave, brave, stupid man who can’t make himself happy. And can’t you see that? Can’t you see you’re a man?”

“He wrapped his arms around her, because he didn’t know what else to do. Holding her was the only comfort he’d truly known. Possibly the only peace he’d truly known. Because peace was being known.”

SO……. if you need a book right now that will remind you why none of us are an island, why we all need the acceptance and welcome that comes when you feel comfortable laying your burdens on the shoulders of someone else, this book is for you. If you need a book right now about the bravery it takes to scale the walls of what looks like an impenetrable fortress when your standing on the periphery, but is actually a carefully constructed disguise to shelter a vulnerable heart, this book is for you.

And last but not least. If you need a book with a stern brunch daddy hero who is implacable, impermeable, irresistible and impossible, THIS BOOK IS FOR YOU.

My eternal gratitude to the publisher, the author and Netgalley for sending me an ARC of this extraordinary, unforgettable book in exchange for an honest review.

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Lizzie and Dante

Yes it broke my heart. And yes, it put all of the Humpty Dumpty eggshell fragile pieces back together again. 

Lizzie isn’t living on borrowed time. She is living on finite time. She knows her days are numbered and few, and doesn’t want to cause agony for those who love her. So, like a bird, she rests lightly. She refuses to build nests or rest in the arms of others. 

Dante is a single father enchanted by her sassy comebacks, her sparkling gaze and her open heart. Etta is his precocious, piquant, priceless daughter. A twelve year old girl desperately seeking her place in the world, who longs for a mother’s care and love.

Lizzie and Dante’s story is about making your own family. The cast of complex, conscientious friends Lizzie is surrounded by will remind you to cherish your people, and fight for them as they would fight for you. 

Lizzie and Dante’s story is about making the most of every single golden, breathless moment we are given. It is about gratitude for the fleeting beauty we find, and a celebration of the love we give and receive. 

Lizzie makes peace with the finite nature of the sands in her hourglass. She makes peace with the boundless love and acceptance she is offered. She makes peace with moments that become blessings, not stolen and plagued by guilt and regret. She embraces her fearlessness, and finally alights on her nest.

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Kissing Under the Mistletoe

I loved this collection of Christmas romances! The stories all stand alone, and are not interconnected.

In Enoch’s Great Scot, a woman content with a life she considers full of purpose, discovers unexpected love. At the age of thirty three, Jane has given up on finding happiness and accepts a position as the companion of Lady Aldriss.
Brennan Andrews is the brawny Scottish architect hired by the Aldriss family. He is a man disfigured by a terrible accident, who has known great loss and sorrow. He has given up on finding his own love story. Library sketches, and long walks and deep conversations draw them together.

In Grey’s Christmas at Dewberry Hollow, a musket accident brings together and an arrogant earl and an independent innkeeper’s daughter. Isabelle only wants her family inn to succeed- but bare cupboards and short staff can’t be rectified with underpaying customers. John wants to help his grandfather find reminders of happier times. Both hexand Isabel make assumptions that erupt into fiery banter. They are opposites drawn to each other despite their emnity.

In Bennett’s Mistletoe Beau, Eva only wants to recover her father’s pocketwatch from the libertine earl who now possesses it. He agrees to relinquish the pocketwatch in exchange for a kiss. The kiss becomes an agreement to pose as the current object of the earl’s affections. But the feigned attraction develops into much more as they exchange more kisses and outlandish names.

This is the perfect escape for the holiday season.

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Just Haven’t Met You Yet

First impressions are deceiving!!!

I loved this sweet romance about the deception of first impressions!

When Laura is sent to the Channel Islands to explore the perfect Meet Cute storyline, she has her own motives. She’s pursuing the origin of her parents’ love story.

A luggage mishap convinces her that her own Fated Mates lovestory is in the making. She persuades Ted to ferry her around the island in his taxi, to show her all of the magical places and help her craft her article.

Along the way, Lauren finds out that history can’t always be viewed through rose-colored glasses, love sneaks up on you and sabotages everything you thought was true, and first impressions are almost always not to be trusted.

This is the perfect read for fans of contemporary romances by Kate Clayborn, Beth O’Leary, and Mhairi McFarlane.

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The Virgin Who Bewitched Lord Lymington

A stern brunch daddy and an unconventional, blue collar heroine find unexpected love.

He is intimidating because he is gorgeous and unaware of it, stoic and unyielding because he despises weakness and is determined to rectify past wrongs, unapproachable and irresistible.

She is a woman in hiding. She is adept at masquerading as something she is not to ferret out the answers she needs. She is resolute in her vow to protect other vulnerable women from her fate.

From the moment he eavesdrops on her meeting, he is caught in her web. From the moment he glowers at her, she is ensnared.

They must join forces to solve a string of disappearances and murders, and every time they meet more secrets are uncovered between them.

I could not put down this wonderful romance with its unconventional main characters and unique plot. Highly recommended if your historical romance TBR needs a stern brunch daddy and a resourceful, blue collar heroine.

A huge thanks to Kensington and Netgalley for the opportunity to read an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.

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A Reckless Match

5 Hallelujah Stars

I absolutely devoured the first book in Kate Bateman’s new Ruthless Rivals series.

This enemies to lovers story had me swooning from the very first page. I am a goner for childhood pranks that disguise the fact that the incorrigible boy is yanking on the spitfire girl’s pigtails because he wants her attention. Gryffud and Madeleine were always raising the stakes as one another’s childhood nemesis. Their families have cherished a centuries long game of intrigue – determined to thwart and bedevil one another at every turn. Madeleine and Gryffud were natural beneficiaries of this enmity – and plagued each other with humiliation and inconvenience.

Now they are adults. Gryffud is returning home as the new earl – and he has a date with destiny that requires a meeting with the Montgomery family. If he fails to show up, Maddie and her family can restore their fortunes. There are no horsemen approaching and Maggie’s hopes are expanding. When Gryffud’s mount thunders towards her, she is crestfallen that he has once again become the instrument of her downfall.

Madeline needs to restore her family’s fortunes- and she can’t afford to be distracted by Gryffud. He’s a scoundrel and a wretch determined to thwart her at every opportunity. And he will never admit that she was the one vision that kept him sane while he was fighting in a bitter war. He will never admit that sparring with her makes him feel more alive than anything else.

Smugglers, cave-ins, rare books and circumstances beyond their control finally ignite a bonfire that has been simmering beneath the surface for ten years.

Dive into this lush historical romance! It will cure your reading slump and give you something to snuggle with during the chilly autumn nights.

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I’m Only Wicked With You

5 Hallelujah Stars

A man who has lost everything and a woman who wants to be valued for herself, not her beauty or her wealth or her social cachet, are irrevocably drawn to one another.

In the third book of Julie Anne Long’s Palace of Rogues series, a blunt, brave, self-made man unlocks the heart of an ice princess. Hugh Cassidy makes the best of his life. He has endured his share of the bitter and longs to savor the sweet. But first, everything must go according to plan. He is building an empire, and his latest goal is one of the final steps to ensure it becomes a reality. From the moment he finds her wreathed in cheroot smoke, she is a distraction he can ill afford. They come from different worlds, and the future her family envisions for her does not involve a brash American.

Lillias is attracted to his wide shoulders and glorious grin. She pokes and prods at him, determined to burrow beneath his calm surface. She loathes him because he is judgmental and self-righteous. She loathes him because he challenges her toe-to-toe, and always manages to have the last word. The barbed words they hurl at each other are thinly disguised as polite conversation, and they count coups and hoard the satisfaction of the ones that draw blood.

The constant sparring is a form of self-defense. The latent desire that simmers beneath their exchanges threatens to pull them under its spell. Like a match to tinder, each insult deepens the fascination and attraction and undermines the lies they tell themselves. He has a goal with a finite timeline. She and her family will move back to their glittering ballrooms when the repairs on their mansion are completed.

One parlor discussion of Persephone’s plight reveals what they truly want. Rooftop moonlight confessions make them equally vulnerable. Hugh’s soft, simmering kisses that can excavate a soul, and the touch of his calloused hand – these are the haunting moments that shape the evolution from loathing to necessity. Hugh is scarred, and raw and determined to build his life again. Lillias teeters on the edge of grasping what she wants and defying social expectations. Her beauty has confined her to a box she no longer wants to inhabit, and the love that grows between she and Hugh is the catalyst for her self-acknowledgment and self-empowerment.

This enemies to lovers story had me turning pages all night, scrawling seven pages of excerpted quotes, and weeping at its beauty and pathos. The sparkling banter, the glorious character arcs that ensure we see into the chaotic hearts of the hero and heroine, the rich, descriptive, language. The whole story is seeded with humor and perfect portrayals of the resilience and buoyancy of love. It is a reminder that falling is something you are powerless to fight – and the one who is meant to catch you may not be whom you have dreamed of, but they are exactly who you need.

My Favorite Quotes:

“He had looked into the barrel of enemy rifles, the slavering jaws of a furious bear, the lifeless faces of his father and brother. He could build a home from the stripped timbers on up, shoot to kill nearly anything, expertly hold a newborn baby. He figured he’d been tested in more ways than Hercules, and in the end he supposed he was grateful that the war had sorted the entirety of his life into two categories for him: what was worth living for, what was worth dying for.”

“The nerve of him, looming up out of the dark like a cliff, the sort ships founder on in storms. Shoulders blocking the light, the shadows clinging to the valleys created by his cheekbones and jaw sculpting him rather starkly, and when he’d come closer – she perhaps should not have allowed him to get so close, but then, he’d felt like a dare from nearly the moment he’d appeared, —”

“Broke in two’ made heartbreak sound as simple as treading on a twig – snap! She could now speak with some authority that the sensation in the actual moment – two months and two days ago, to be precise- was less a break and more of a swift harpooning – she had full access to her father’s library and read a good deal; she was good at choosing words. And there was nothing simple about it. It wasn’t just one emotion. A whole flapping Pandora’s Box full of them had been released: astonishment, wounded pride, mordant amusement about the wounded pride, mordant amusement about the astonishment, confusion, scalding grief, a flailing loss.”

“And…well he recalled hearing that Sir Galahad had been speechless when he’d first clapped eyes on the grail. It was a bit like that. Words seemed both pointless and impossible. But Galahad had allegedly been pure of heart, and that’s where the comparison ended. Hugh’s thoughts were anything but.”

“His smile was slow, and contained such a combination of genuine amusement, self-deprecation, and appreciation for her that for an instant every part of her felt illuminated, warmed, and too exposed.”

“Hugh sought the right words. “It’s just that…” He pushed his hair back. And then he sighed. “I feel that if one is properly living life…an excess of rumination and metaphor can put you at a remove from all that’s beautiful about it. If one takes advantage of all the senses – breathing, feeling, seeing… touching…tasting…” he tried not to look at Lillias “…then merely being alive is poetry.”

“He felt feral, standing naked – clearly the word of the day – and perspiring at an open window, irritable and restless, acutely aware of every inch of his skin, or, more accurately, the full contours of his being. As though it had been coiled into a cramped place and newly freed, and now was needling him as the blood flowed again. Skin was useful for more than being the thing between his viscera and bullets, for instance. It was capable of knowing glories.”

“She gazed up into his face, and he gazed down into hers as if she were a landscape he was inspecting for hidden enemies. Or perhaps hidden wonders. Lost. His voice lowered conspiratorially. “Would you like your hand back?” The right words to say were bobbing around somewhere in the syrup her brain had become; she couldn’t quite fish them out. The truth was, at the moment, her hand seemed to rightly belong to him. As though it were a trophy he’d won for snatching arrows out of air.

“How he felt (hard as a wall, safe as a house, dangerous as a wild animal), how he smelled (sweat, sawdust, smoke, musk, sex), how he tasted (like sin, if sin was a liqueur)- taken together they should have all comprised an adventure. And then a lesson. And then be rapidly consigned to history.”

“Once I have the target in my sights,” he said, close to her ear, “I think of what I love most in the world. What will happen if I miss? Will they be harmed? Will they go hungry? Will I see them again?” He paused at length. “Because I’ve learned that once you know what truly matters in life, and once you know who and what you truly love, then you know who you are…and your aim will always be true.”

“I thought love was meant to be an easy, peaceful thing, Lillias. But it’s like life itself. It’s maddening. And beautiful. And changeable and funny and passionate. It’s…like a Hudson River Valley sunset. Underneath all that fire and glory the sky is ever constant. It’s like you. For me, it is you.”

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A Duke Worth Fighting For

The sparks fly between a wounded warrior and a courageous widow.

Margery has already experienced the love of her life – and was profoundly devastated by its loss. She is absolutely certain that she will never find its equal, and has resigned herself to a life spent caring for others and burying her dreams. A malicious letter changes that. Suddenly, Margery must navigate an impending scandal and begins to question all of her own assumptions about the past.

Margery has no resources of her own. She is desperate to meet the demands of her blackmailer but has nowhere to turn. Enter Daniel. The enigmatic, battle-weary veteran whose social awkwardness is hampering his search for a wife. Daniel is a reluctant duke. He wants a wife for more than duty, but is convinced that his emotional and physical scars are repulsive. He knows that his situation is hopeless. Margery strikes a bargain with him – she will find him a suitable wife in exchange for a fee. The problem is that Margery has captivated him, even though she’s made it abundantly clear she is unavailable.

Margery is far from immune to the allure of the tall, imposing duke with the voice that is “dark and deep, with a delicious timbre that is as rich and mouthwatering” as the chocolate she consumes every morning. His injuries do not bother her- she finds him compelling and irresistible. And Daniel finds it harder and harder to suppress his yearning for the sweet, solicitous, entrancing widow.

I adored this slow burn romance with a scarred hero and a mature widow. I was heartbroken by the fact that Daniel’ s experiences in war have left their stamp on him – his use of a cane and his self -doubt were extremely realistic depictions of the emotional trauma inflicted on soldiers. I was touched by Margery’s realization that love doesn’t just come once, that the heart is open and resilient and has an endless capacity for care.

Their relationship is gentle and consuming and brings the solace and fulfillment they both needed.

These two broken souls who have seen the world trample on their dreams finally surrender to the possibility between them. They are forced to acknowledge it will change the course of their lives, and nothing – not blackmail, not self-doubt, not social expectations- can keep them apart.

All the Duke I Need

The heart wants what it wants…

“Do not be frightened of what love will cost you, be frightened of what you might lose if you deny your love.”

They could not be more inappropriate or unsuitable for one another– but the heart wants what it wants.

His first appearance before the Dowager Duchess is delayed by a shirtless dowse under an outdoor spigot the laundry women cannot stop swooning over. And as much as she disapproves of him, Philippa Kirkpatrick wishes she’d gotten a glimpse of William Montclair’s bare chest as well.

The new steward is not the stodgy stick in the mud everyone expected. He is a brash, strikingly handsome American who whispers sweet nothings with the aplomb of a French courtier. He is brimming with both ideas and competency, despite his lack of experience managing an estate.

Philippa has managed her adopted grandmother’s affairs with a deft hand since she turned eighteen. She has tracked the correspondence and the accounts and resents the intrusion of someone who appears to be a cavalier interloper.

William and Philippa are thrown together so that he has a guide to the tenants, the estate’s concerns and the reparations to be made. The more time they spend with one another, the greater their feelings become.

But William has secrets he cannot share, and Pippa needs the safety and security of marriage to a landed gentleman. Any future seems doomed before it begins.

I loved this story of the loss and obstinacy that has shaped the lives of this couple. They cling to the expectations of others until they realize nothing matters if you do not have love.

By Any Other Name: Lauren Kate

She’s finally getting the promotion she’s been working for. But her success hinges on her ability to guard one of the biggest secrets in the publishing world.

Their meet cute is not cute. As far as she’s concerned, he’s arrogant and condescending and aloof. And whether or not she finds him attractive is immaterial. She’s already engaged. And he’s a liar.

But he writes books that are things of beauty. Books that speak to her heart and have shaped her life. But now the one writer who will make or sink her career has writer’s block. Even though she is hurt enough, and angry enough, to cast him into purgatory, she knows she has to thrust her feelings of betrayal aside and get him to deliver a manuscript.

Lanie and Noah have messy lives and loose ends. They have the weight of a monumental deception between them. But they also have tulips. And walks in the rain. And train rides with odiferous lunches.

I absolutely adored this sweet, sassy rom-com! It features a complex hero who is in touch with his feelings, and able to articulate them. It features a heroine who finally empowers herself to seek out and fight for the life and the sense of personhood that she wants and deserves. It features two unforgettable characters navigating the challenges and losses that have shaped them.

Plot: 5 Stars
Characters: 5 Stars
Steam: 1 Star