One Thing Leads to a Lover

A huge thanks to Netgalley, the publisher and the author for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.

I loved the fact that this book featured a mature hero and heroine. Amanda is a devoted mother who has lived a shrouded life since her husband’s death. But Amanda is sick and tired of shadows. She is sick and tired of decisions being made on her behalf about what she can wear, how she raises her children, even what she instructs her cook to prepare for dinner.

When she opens up the birthday present she purchased her son, she is confused to discover the bookshop wrapping concealed a cookbook written entirely in French. When a mysterious gentleman appears demanding an exchange happen, Amanda is intrigued. Finally, a bit of excitement has landed in her lap!

The only life Langley Stanhope knows is one of espionage and subterfuge. He is determined to retrieve the seemingly innocuous cookbook and redeem himself in the eyes of his comrades in arms. His retrieval is thwarted by a series of mishaps and contrivances, and he and Lady Amanda are thrown into situations of forced proximity and assumed identities.

The closer they become, the more he unravels. He cannot resist her caring, brave heart and she tumbles head over heels for his deceptively impenetrable mask.

The plot was deftly executed, the characters were fully developed and compelling, the love story unfolded with both steam and tenderness, and the dialogue was filled with lovely innuendo.

The Devil in Her Bed

Childhood friends find one another after years of loneliness and desperation.

She loved him from the first moment she saw him. A hungry, beautiful, broken boy. She nurtures her dreams and affection in secret as they grow because she is acutely aware the depth of her feelings is unreciprocated. He only has eyes for her best friend.

Unspeakable tragedy obliterates their home and their safety – and they are the only survivors. They make an anguished escape into the forest. But the villains who have stolen everything are determined to erase all evidence of crime. Their pursuit ends in separation.

When they meet two decades later, neither bears any resemblance to the child the other knew. Pippa has assumed an identity that has ensured her financial security and her survival. And the only person alive who can refute her identity and thwart her plans for revenge is the boy who left her sheltered beneath a tree in a long ago, far away wood. They share a cold-hearted desire to exact vengeance. They both want to expose the monsters that hide behind gilt masks of civility and propriety.

As they grow closer, their deceptions and their secrets build walls between them. Even as they fall inexorably, irrevocably into one another’s arms, they are aware that one word can destroy the fragile foundation between them. This is a gorgeous slow burn love story about learning to lean on someone else and trusting them to protect both your heart and your future.

There are many instances of Byrne’s lush, evocative writing. Here is one of my favorite quotes:

“Trust mirrors life, I’m coming to understand. Some get to build on pristine new ground, and others…have to sift through the ruins and the rubble.”

Experience the wonder and magic as Pippa and Declan sift through the shards together.

5 Stars

Locked In Love

He ruined her life and she despises him.

This wonderful love story unfolds in the middle of a quarantine.

He’s the man Kara used to share a cubicle with– or at least a workspace. But their budding romance cost her a job she loved and now she’s unemployed. It’s all his fault, and she lays the blame completely on his shoulders. He’s the reason she’s looking for a hook-up with an overgrown slob of a fratboy. He’s the reason she feels unhinged and untethered.

To make matters worse, the frat boy hookup that didn’t happen means she’s stuck in HIS apartment building for the foreseeable future.

Rory was saddened that the work fiasco wrecked his maybe with Kara. Though she seems to hate his guts, he had reasons for staying at the company that he felt too vulnerable to share. Those reasons will become evident if Kara takes him up on the offer to stay in his apartment until the quarantine ends.

Why this book was the perfect mini- escape from the quarantine that has become a stifling cocoon:

  1. The banter and sparks between Kara and Rory sizzle off the page.
  2. She has to wear his clothes— and they smell like him. You know we’ve all stolen that t-shirt just so we could get a surreptitious sniff whenever we needed it.
  3. There is a sweet, sassy side character who will steal your heart.
  4. Rory may have an 8 pack and seem like a tiger, but he’s actually a kitten.
  5. Forced proximity. And all of the uncomfortable, arousing, impossible to ignore feelings it forces out in the open.

Blood and Sand

This had all of the Spartacus, Gladiator and Troy vibes I needed.

Attia survived the massacre of her people only to be bound to her enemy. She must bow her head, keep her temper, and become a subservient concubine to the reigning champion of Rome.

But the reigning champion is a prisoner too. He may be a great warrior, but he has honed his skills in the arena to protect others. He carries loss and burden on his shoulders as well, and fully understands Attia’s sorrow and anger.

When an incognito rescuer ensures Xanthus prevails against an impossible challenge, the stakes become higher. As the corruption, greed and cruelty surrounding her become more prevalent, it becomes more difficult for Attia to conceal her identity. She and Xanthus struggle to protect those they care about and plan a daring escape.

This unforgettable, luminous story is now one of my favorites. It is a beautiful tapestry of loss and love.

5 Stars.

A Rogue to Remember

A huge thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Recommended if you love Lisa Kleypas and Katharine Ashe.

This was a lovely friends-to-lovers historical romance.

The childhood connection between Lottie and Alec is the defining relationship in both their lives. Until it isn’t. Until they are manipulated into believing they are not what is best or right or happy for each other.

Lottie has resolutely recovered from Alec’s abandonment five years ago. She is determined to become an independent woman untethered by the apron strings of society and free to pursue a life of travel and adventure. But her escape has garnered the eagle attention of her uncle — and he will not tolerate her willfulness. Alec is tasked with returning her to England.

When they meet again, it is oil and water. When he kisses her, she wants to believe it is because of something more substantial than their fake relationship ruse. She wants him to understand her, but she doesn’t want that vulnerability between them. And Alec is convinced that his past is an insurmountable obstacle to a future with her.

Will they get their HEA?

The navigation of their star-crossed circumstances had me smiling and shaking my head. In the tradition of all obtuse and oblivious men, Alec doesn’t realize that he is exactly what Lottie both wants and needs.

Savage Lands

Wow.

This book was not what I expected.

Here are the reasons I devoured it like I’d been trekking across a barren desert for weeks:

  1. The setting.

The Fae and the humans have a perilous truce in Eastern Europe, and no city is more imperiled than Budapest. There are slums that reminded me of descriptions I’ve read of London’s Seven Dials, and the pampered, privileged class are completely unaware of hardship in their ivory palaces.

But Brex is a daredevil who wants one last taste of freedom. She gets caught and is sentenced to a prison the likes of Azkahban.

  1. The plot.

It’s a cross between Gladiator and Labyrinth. There are elements of the myth of the Golden Fleece. The prize isn’t a sacred scrap of wool, though — it’s a hot as hell warrior.

  1. The characters.

Brexley. She is scrappy, stupidly rebellious, but you can’t help but admire her complete disregard for danger. She is determined to survive.

Warwick. He is enigmatic and untouchable. He gives nothing away.

They are inexorably drawn to each other.

  1. The conclusion

The cliffhanger of all cliffhangers. I am a puddle on the floor.

This book was imaginative, fierce and fiery. I cannot wait to read the next one.

Ever After Always

It is very important to me that the things I read are meaningful, insightful and illuminating. When I pick up a romance novel, I want to see the portrayal of a relationship based on mutual respect- a true partnership.

Liese’s new novel is absolutely incandescent.

Aidan and Freya are in the midst of a struggle to save their marriage. Their personal vulnerabilities have become a wedge between them, and now it is imperative that they reconstruct their relationship from the ground up. The things that separate them are sleeping lions they have kept buried. They are deep-rooted issues of self-love and self-worth.

This is a story about the importance of no holds barred communication in a relationship. It’s a story about growing together instead of apart. It’s a story about what comes after the HEA- and how the real work begins once we throw the rose-colored glasses over our shoulders and accept our imperfections and those of our partner. It’s a story about tenacity, endurance and courage.

Liese beautifully tackles the mental health issues of anxiety and depression and the impact they have on a relationship. Liese beautifully tackles the commitment and strength needed to scale the walls we erect between ourselves and those we care about.

If you read one contemporary romance this year, make it this one.

Shadow Heart

So. Here goes. I could not read past Ch. 3 of Fifty Shades of Gray and I was forever turned off to PDoug’s writing by Credence. Complicated romances are wonderful. But they should be complicated and many faceted because of the world-building and unforgettable characters who aren’t assholes just because it suits the enemies to lovers trope the author wants to use. Making things dark and complicated because of plot elements deliberately crafted for their shock factor is not ok. Shadowheart by Laura Kinsale is one of the reasons I have no patience for plot elements I feel are used to garner sales for their sheer shock factor. 

It is an incomparable dark medieval romance with a hero who is an assassin. He has subsisted in a lonely, scourged sphere his entire life. And then one woman defies his capture, and he becomes her captive … bound by her deep understanding and acceptance of the wounds on his soul. Allegreto and Elena’s story is not an easy read, but it is gut-wrenchingly beautiful.

A Heart of Blood and Ashes

So of course I LOVED this dark fantasy romance from Milla Vane. IF KHAL and KHALEESI had gotten their HEA I want to believe it would have looked like this. 

A smoldering enemies to lovers plot arc, with a sexy barbarian in a loincloth, who has dragonlike qualities. 

Insta-buy. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. 

Maddek is now a member of my virtual harem of Book Baes. He, Griffin of the Kingmaker Chronicles, and Ryodan of the Fever series are now the official Triumvirate. 

Maddek- how to describe him? It’s the cold disdain of Darcy. His inevitable capitulation to a fine pair of eyes, a healthy respect for a razor sharp wit, and a healthy appreciation for the subtle art of sarcasm. It is Rhett’s unmitigated teasing and hard-won realization that this woman is far more than she appears to be. His dawning awareness that her beauty cloaks a core of steel. 

And so the hero falls victim to the charms of a woman against his better judgment because she defies every expectation. Literally chokes them to death and buries them like dusty bones. The tension is literally off the charts. The passion for blood, revenge and what can happen against a wall, on a blanket on the edge of a spooky forest, on a ship, straddled across a chair, seated on a horse- ok, yes. The imagination and the list itself are boundless. 

ALL. THE. VIKING. VIBES.

Hell yes, I will abandon everything I know and follow you into the dark storm of Ragnarok. Especially if you keep faith with me.

Lady Derring Takes A Lover

“I suppose I was wondering…. why you want me?”
“Because you’ve a spark about you,” he said swiftly. “In a room full of people you seem like the one visible star in a night sky.”

Julie Anne Long is one of my favorite historical romance authors for three reasons:

Her build-them-from-the-first page characters that are always perfectly imperfect;

The dialogue is sharp and sweet, tart and lush;

The emotional development of the characters is the focus of the plot, and the evolution of their relationship always plays center stage.

This is the first book in her latest series- Palace of Rogues.

Delilah learned to never truly ask for what she wanted. She learned that a woman’s place is wherever her husband has relegated her- no matter how venal and desperate that corner is. She has learned that control over her own life is a luxury she can only dream of, and she will always be a victim of circumstance.

But Delilah’s husband is suddenly dead and the world is a vast sea of opportunities. And then she learns she’s penniless. She is certain there is one scrap of the estate to fortify her independence, and when the executor hands her the keys to a mystery building on the docks, she knows it is her one chance.

She finds an unlikely cohort in her husband’s former mistress, and they concoct an impetuous, wonderful plan to ensure they have bread on the table.

Tristan is the King’s man. He ferrets out smugglers and contraband at the behest of the Crown, and he has never failed to land his quarry. He is convinced that the building Delilah has inherited is the headquarters for an insidious smuggling ring. He makes her acquaintance on false pretenses, but she dominates the periphery of his world.

This inexorable, imminent descent to tangled sheets, slow-burn romance is a must read.