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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.”

Not the Kind of Earl You Marry

A fake engagement gone awry…

3.5 ⭐️

This was a solid debut and I look forward to reading more from this author.

William is a rising political star, with the looks and pedigree to enchant the ton’s matchmaking mamas. He is focused on fulfilling his father’s legacy and making a name for himself as a reknowned orator and negotiator on the Parliament floor – he is not interested in obtaining a wife.

Charlotte is decidedly unimpressed by William’s rank or reputation. She is incensed when he accuses her of trying to manipulate him into an engagement. She reluctantly agrees to a fake engagement to keep the whiff of scandal from affecting his political ambitions.

The gossip rags ensure they must pretend in earnest. But when they both catch feelings, the ruse becomes real and neither one wants to end it.

My favorite elements:

  1. The fact that William willingly turned over the reins to his carriage- this is definitely a rare occurrence in historical romance! He was indulgent without being patronized and seemed genuinely invested in teaching Charlotte to drive.
  2. The in-depth examinations of parliamentary maneuverings. As a legislative history buff fascinated by the evolution of the law, I appreciated the attention the author gave to William’s political aspirations and knowledge.

I love a slow-burn romance. William and Charlotte are determined to deny the tender feelings building between them due to their unsuitability. As their orchestrated courtship is sabotaged by fervent kisses, breathtaking waltzes, and heartfelt notes, they realize that Cupid could not have chosen better.

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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.

Under Locke

He’s not really an asshole…

What an amazing rollercoaster of fierce emotion and tangled need.

Dex is an asshole. But Iris is determined to make a new beginning. He can criticize her clothes. He can give her the meanest glower on the planet. When she overhears him calling her a useless idiot and a bitch, she decides her imprisonment under his thumb will last only long enough to add something to the measly $76 in her bank account. Then he can kiss her lily white, because she’s finding another job. One where she doesn’t have to tiptoe, or avoid looking her wildly attractive yet bastard of a boss in the eye.

And then he lets his armor crack. Sly humor, unwavering loyalty, stubborn protectiveness and irresistible hugs infiltrate her defenses. Suddenly she loves it when he mutters Ritz. When his hand curls around the nape of her neck. He’s everything her mom wanted her to avoid. He owns a motorcycle, he’s tatted up and he’s an ex-con. But he takes care of everyone around him. He’s a successful businessman. He’s addictive and layered, and gets under her skin.

She turns to him when she can’t trust anyone else, and he would sacrifice everything to keep her safe.

This is my favorite Zapata novel yet. It’s an absolutely intoxicating, unparalleled slow burn, enemies to lovers, bad boys with hearts of gold, taming of the beast. I loved every second of it.

Warning: The intimate scenes are very explicit, and the level of steam is off the charts.

The Dating Dare

Tara and Seth have an undeniable chemistry. They bond over an epic night filled with Truth or Dare, probing questions and sexually charged banter. But he’s leaving for a job abroad in a month, and she doesn’t do “the relationship thing.” 

They agree to a series of dates, with the caveat that they will not fall in love with one another. But the kisses are incinerating, the sex is the best Tara has ever had, and they have an easy camaraderie. 

What they don’t have is the courage to leave behind their emotional baggage and give their relationship a chance. And their time together has an expiration date.

I loved this sweet and steamy story. It’s about finding love when you least expect it, and finding the courage to welcome it and fight for it despite the demons of your past.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

West End Earl

They don’t expect to find their HEA…

Ophelia has known nothing in her life but loss, denial and hardship. Until she is rescued by Calvin, the enigmatic Earl of Carlyle, and given a job as his land steward. Under an assumed identity and an assumed gender, she becomes an indispensable part of his inner circle. She assists him in the running of his financial empire by managing a network of informants and spies. She adroitly bests him in regular bouts of fencing. She becomes a trusted confidante and adeptly avoids pursuits and situations that would sabotage her masquerade.

But one of Ophelia’s guilty pleasures is staring at his profile – and thank goodness he’s oblivious to her scrutiny. When her life is threatened by a series of unfortunate accidents, her employer insists that she take up residence in his luxurious townhome.

Ophelia’s disguise is revealed when she has no choice. But the Earl’s treatment of her doesn’t change. Until he can’t stop thinking about her. Or staring at her profile. And wondering at his previous blindness.

They begin a clandestine affair that is all Ophelia has ever dreamt of. But she knows they only have this moment, and is determined to make a new beginning once she buries the demons in her past. It’s up to Calvin to use all of his powers of persuasion to convince her that the only new beginning she should choose is one by his side.

I loved this story so much! Ophelia’s fierce independence and Calvin’s equally fierce protective nature were the perfect halves to a whole. I loved the fact that Ophelia didn’t conform to the traditional view of beauty, but was irresistible to Colin because of her courage and spirit. I loved the fact that Colin was a cinnamon Teddy Graham- he acknowledges his shortcomings, is loyal to a fault, and is not afraid to give his heart to a woman who is both strong and broken.

5 Stars!!!!

For the Wolf

Little Red Riding Hood like you never imagined it…

4.5 Stars

A huge thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for my complimentary copy.

This is the most riveting Red Riding Hood retelling I’ve ever read. The world building is rich and intricate, the heroine is fierce and independent, and the hero is wonderful.

Redarys is the Second Daughter. She has known her fate her entire life. She will be left in the woods- a sacrifice that will bring about the salvation of her people. The forest will swallow her- just as it has devoured all of the Second Daughters that came before her.

But Red finds a piece of quiet and sanctuary in the midst of the wood. She meets a tall, scarred stranger who is neither a villain nor the fearsome monster of legend. She learns that she wields the same kernel of power he does, and that her fate is completely entwined with that of the Wildwood.

The truth is far more complex than the stories she has been spoonfed. And there are those who want to bury and obscure it. As Red and Eammon fall in love, they learn what true sacrifice is and the power it has to change everything.

Float Plan

It seemed like a good idea at the time…

Anna and Keane are both running away from their lives. They both have been run through the gristmill by recent tragedy, and are trying to pick up the pieces and put themselves back together.

Keane wasn’t part of Anna’s plan. But neither was Ben’s death. And now she feels overwhelmed and abandoned and rudderless. An able seaman, willing to help her sail to Puerto Rico free of charge seems like a godsend. Soon, sharing her tiny space with him doesn’t seem weird. Soon, she looks forward to his cheeky grin and it no longer fazes her when he grabs the Capt. America mug for his morning coffee.

Keane is dazzled by Anna. By both her self-effacing beauty and her vulnerability. By her grit and her determination. He has his own demons to fight, but he would gladly spend the rest of his days watching sunsets with her. And when Anna finally begins to deviate from the course set by others abd sail where her heart longs to go, he hopes she’ll want him by her side.

I loved loved loved this story about second chances, finding the bottomless well of courage to face the hard days, climbing through your grief and carving your own path.

Seven Days in June

Their love story deserves a second chance…

Being a grown woman and a single mom, and competently handling your shit on a daily basis doesn’t leave much space in your life for finding love. Especially when the only love you ever really believed in gutted you during a tsunami like obsession that only lasted for seven days and happened fifteen years ago. Especially when you have to battle the demons of your debilitating illness.

When Shane walks into Eva’s life again, the doubts and struggles of her past come roaring back to life. He is the one shining joy and agonizing betrayal she cannot forget. He broke her and doesn’t deserve her forgiveness- much less a redo. But they are still drawn to each other as if they are magnetized. They still strike sparks off each other with a single loaded glance.

Shane has spent fifteen years trying to escape himself. He has spent fifteen years running from the one jubilant moment he had with Eva. He has spent fifteen years self-medicating with alcohol. His addiction is a crutch he is finally conquering, and he sees every decision he made leading to this rare love story.

Whether they are ready to lay down their burdens in each other’s arms, to treasure the acceptance and solace they find in each other, will be the ultimate test.

There are so many things I love about this book:

  1. The incisive, insightful summaries of personal struggle and redemption.
  2. The unflinching portrayal of rising like a phoenix from the debris of a destructive, soul-stealing childhood.
  3. The uncanny truths about mothering in the 21st century.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“Girls are given the weight of the world, but nowhere to put it down. The power and magic born in that struggle? It’s so terrifying to men that we invented reasons to burn y’all at the stake, just to keep our dicks hard.”

“Maybe they’d always be disasters- but couldn’t they support each other and grow together? No one was perfect! And maybe that was what real, adult love was. Being fearless enough to hold each other close no matter how catastrophic the world became. Loving each other with enough ferocity to quell the fears of the past. Just fucking being there.”

A Duke In Time

An independent widow and a stoic duke find their HEA.

I dare you not to swoon over the sweet, supportive romance that blooms between Kat and Christian. 

Kat is a self-made woman. She has concealed her ignominious past from the ton, and launched a successful business with her savvy and insight. Her husband’s death doesn’t bring the closure she had hoped for. Instead it brings new obstacles and challenges she never could have foreseen. She digs in her heels and takes off her gloves to force his dukish half-brother into helping her clean up the mess. 

Christian has never met a woman like Kat. He expunged his brother and his wild antics from his life when he joined the army. And now his delectable, infuriating widow has gotten under his skin and his skill as a tactician on the battlefield was no preparation for her siege.

They begin a reluctant partnership that unfolds into a shared presence of mind and determination to make the world a better place. Christian wants her in his bed, and is lost at the first fleeting touch of her lips. But he cannot offer her more. And Kat finds him fiercely irresistible- but cannot allow her secrets to cloud his future. 

Every moment they spend together is fraught with temptation. Kat is determined not to cloud Christian’s prospects with her humble origins and Christian is convinced he is not a suitable candidate for marriage. 

The quest for Christian’s brother’s legacy, the shared investment they have in improving the lot of others, and the fiery attraction that burns between them become impossible to resist. They are inexorably drawn to each other- and find safety and solace in each other’s embrace. Their journey to incandescent joy is a sweet, saucy surrender. 

Here are some of my favorite quotes.

Her mellifluous voice wrapped around him as the word mine burrowed into the recesses of his mind. For a wild moment, he wanted nothing more than to make her his. Ch. 4

It was foolhardy to be kissing her when anyone could walk in, but a small growl of need rose within his chest. This woman made him want all the wonderful things that life had to offer, like the comfort of holding another. Ch. 13

If any soldier had deserted him like his well-bred willpower just had, he would have called for a court martial of the fugitive. Ch. 13

“There are no guarantees that any of us will experience or even find love in this life. But if we’re lucky enough to obtain it, we must protect and nourish it, much like a seedling until it can stand on its own and weather the elements. Love, if allowed to grow, develops deep roots, whether from a father, mother, husband, wife, or even our own children, that will last for a lifetime and beyond.” Ch 15

I want to be the man who lays a rose on your pillow in the morning, holds your hand in the dark, and kisses you as the sun rises. Ch 21

“It’s a powerful word. For instance, nothing will ever keep me from you. Nothing will keep us apart. Nothing will keep me from giving you my heart. Nothing will keep me from showing you my deepest abiding love every day. Nothing will keep me from making love to you. Nothing will keep me from begging you to marry me every hour until we say, ‘I do.’” Ch 26