I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
Let’s turn a negative into a positive.
When your 20-month-old wakes you up by shrieking from his bed “momMY, momMY, momMY” before 7 am on a Sunday, you have the opportunity to work on a blog post that you might not have posted that day.
Similarly, when you buy a huge home with the intent of renovating it and using that renovation as an example in your book about home interior design, and then you discover that the house you purchased for said project is haunted, you have the opportunity to befriend, be-lust, and maybe more an absent-minded, brilliant, strapping scientist who happens to be interested in ghosts.
The second example is one that the scandalous widow Alva Webster finds herself reluctantly embracing in Diana Biller’s fantastic The Widow of Rose House. This book has everything I could have wanted: an enticing ghost story, a courageous widow-heroine who’s wary of relationships given her history with her husband and parents, and a wonderfully irrepressible hero, an inventor named Samuel Moore who delights in Alva’s prickliness and is determined to protect her from the challenges that beset her…including the aforementioned ghost.
It’s the dynamics between Alva and Samuel that make this book unputadownable. Besides having searing chemistry—and really, it’s amazing—these leads are also so funny together. When others might be repelled by Alva’s reserved manner, her occasional eye-rolling, or even the sexual rumors that dog her, Samuel's enchanted; when other partners might be annoyed by Samuel’s frequent daydreams of possible inventions, his seemingly endless joie de vivre, his fairly uncomplicated past, Alva’s drawn in, bemused by the inventor who can turn from dreamy-eyed to physically intimidating in an instant. (If I sound a little in love, it’s because I am.)
Add to this the fact that their relationship is based on mutual respect, and well, it’s the kind of relationship anyone would want in a ghost story/romance...or real life. Wouldn’t you agree?
And all of this is set in a place and time—New York, 1875—that Biller imbues with atmosphere and mystery. It’s deliciously creepy-crawl-y with a ghost who can and does scare the bejeezus out of people, and yet the exchanges between Alva and Samuel, the way they are together, make the book unexpectedly lighthearted at times. Happy.
I don’t know how to tell you any plainer that The Widow of Rose House is wonderful, it’s particularly perfect for fall, and you will love it and want more.
Content Warning: mental and physical abuse.
I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
Thea Harrison’s American Witch was the last book to surprise me. I picked it up & read a few chapters, and before I knew it I was absolutely sucked into this story of enemies-to-lovers, older hero-heroine, witch-coming-into-her-own goodness.
Molly Sullivan discovers her magical powers the same night that she discovers that her husband has been sleeping with another woman in their bed. Neither discovery goes down smooth.
She’s soon approached by Josiah Mason, District Attorney and fellow witch, who proceeds to offer her help and guidance and oh yeah, steer her & her amazing powers into the direction that would be most advantageous to him, his ambitions, & his mission. For years, Josiah & a like-minded coven of witches have been itching to get revenge against the older witch who betrayed them, & the moment seems closer than ever.
But Josiah’s attraction for Molly is greedy and demanding, & the attack against her & the conspiracy she’s wrapped up in seem to be intimately tied to his own revenge plans. To quote Scooby Doo: Ruh roh.
I kind of love this book. There’s a keen sense of suspense, both with Molly & Josiah’s relationship and the magic plot, a beautiful enemies-to-lovers plotline that kept me invested from the first frosty exchange, & a fantastic heroine arc with Molly—who absolutely refuses to kowtow to Josiah at any point in the book—becoming even stronger as the book progresses. After years of subsuming her own wants/needs to her cheating husband, Molly makes it clear from the opening line that that shit won’t fly anymore, and I loved it.
Let’s not forget about how Thea Harrison ties Josiah’s life to a compelling historical moment that still has conspiracy theorist-tongues-wagging…
And you can hopefully see where some of my excitement is coming from. American Witch has the magic, the drama, the fights, the sexiness that make a book devour-able, and I can’t wait to see where the trilogy goes next.
"Hi, it’s so nice to meet you,” she said, shaking the other woman’s hand. “You passed my Smile Test and winced when someone brought up Trump, both of which seem very promising,” she noted, “but before we proceed any further with what could be a life-changing adult friendship, I need to know the top four reasons why fall is your favorite season.”
*I should say that this isn't 100% true for me: one of my best friends prefers summer! (Name redacted to protect her from fellow fall proselytizers).
**Also, this is technically a two-sentence story. Oops.
This has been a One Sentence Story. I wrote a sentence and then created an Etsy mood board of sorts! These are affiliate links—see my footer for a longer disclaimer.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Forever Pub & Grand Central Pub but all opinions provided are my own.
Cancer maybe isn’t a topic that you associate with a romance novel. But many of us (most of us?) have been indirectly or directly affected by it, and romance novels don’t shy away from the tough topics. That’s part of what I love about them: you get the swoons and the HEA (both of which can be real in my experience) and you get the bits of life that are first obstacles/challenges/moments of doubt and that become turning points/wakeup calls/reminders that we can do this thing.
Bailey Moore of My Kind of Wonderful has been cancer-free for three months after battling Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma for ten years. She’s determined to really embrace this new life, no matter how much the people who care about her want to protect her. Bailey’s got a List, a bucket list of sorts (only, she came up with it after she was cancer-free), and she decides that painting a family mural pro bono on the wall at a ski resort goes on it.
Hudson Kincaid, the head of Ski Patrol at Cedar Ridge, doesn’t want Bailey to create the mural. The last thing that he wants is to see his twin brother Jacob on it and be reminded of the horrible fight they had ten years ago…the last time he saw his twin. His mom’s also suffering dementia, the resort’s in trouble, and he’s overworked. He’s got a lot on his plate.
But Bailey’s determined…and beautiful, sensitive, and a spreader of joy, and she starts chipping away at Hudson even as she encourages him to think about their relationship as a “one night stand” kinda thing (even when it’s obviously far from that in nearly every possible way). Can they find their way to something more serious or can Hudson handle one more relationship/responsibility/attachment on his plate?
As Night Owl Reviews notes on the book’s blurb, this book “packs a big walloping emotional punch.” It’s not a lighthearted read, even though it’s really funny at times and the heroine happens to be a straight-up beaut of a person, lighting everything up. The ending doesn’t solve all the hero and heroine’s problems, though it’s definitely a HEA.
What it is is a wonderful book.
Shalvis’s contemporary books are consistently great—sexy, warm, and with fantastic character ensembles who pop in and out of later books—but My Kind of Wonderful is another kind of special. A warm, lovely story with an irrepressible heroine, a guilt-ridden and family-centered hero, and sexytimes crackling off the page, it’s a stand-out for me, the kind of romance that you hold close.
4.5 out of 5 stars.
I received a complimentary ARC of this book from the author but all opinions provided are my own.
Um, hello, amazing book.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I began Talia Hibbert’s Work for It. Maybe this review can help prepare you.
Here’s the plot: Olu never told anyone he was gay—until his former lover shared photos of them without Olu’s consent. Now, one year later, he’s depressed, though he wouldn’t use that word to describe his condition, and he prefers to use his prodigious social gifts to hide the truth from everyone. After another failed random hook-up, Olu decides to go on a trip, and an upcoming elderflower harvest in Fernley seems like the most promising opportunity.
It’s in Fernley that Olu meets Griff, village giant and village outcast, son of a scandalous woman. Griff has the biggest heart of anyone in Fernley, not that most of the villagers would give him the credit of noticing it. He’s also the production manager at Fernley Farm, where the elderflower harvest is taking place.
The same one Olu will be working.
Two men, who both have trouble connecting with others, who are haunted by cruel voices, whether they’re from the past or in the careless words/stares of people where they live.
Maybe I don’t have to spell out that this book is hard-hitting, that it engaged every emotion, that it took me on an exhilarating journey that blissfully ends in the way that romance novels are supposed to. It’s really exquisitely done.
What makes Work for It even better is that the book is funny. Really funny at times. And it’s beautifully written: Hibbert writes stunning imagery—metaphors that kept surprising me—and sentences that lead smoothly, effortlessly, from beginning to HEA.
If you need anything else to convince you to pick up this book, let me say that the passion screaming off the pages in this book is so good that (1) there were a few times I didn’t realize that my mouth had been open until I realized that it had closed (2) I realized that it had been open for awhile because my mouth was dry. Oops. But also a sign of crackling chemistry.
This book wrecked me a million times over and has a place on my Keeper shelf, where I can stare at the cover and daydream about Olu and Griff and the life they’re living together (ideally: spending time on their elderflower farm with their kids and going to sleep every night with their arms around each other).
*Okay. I think I’m done.
5 out of 5 stars. Obviously.
I received a complimentary ARC of this book via Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
Ghostly visions of the past. A dangerous magical mirror and pearl. Family secrets coming to light like monsters in a bedroom. *Sings These are a few of my favorite things. To read about.
Nicola Cornick’s House of Shadows was a delightfully eerie surprise when I discovered it nestled deep in my Kindle history the other day. Told from different perspectives—historical and present-day—and containing the gothic and romantic elements that I adore in Susanna Kearsley & Kate Morton’s books, House of Shadows had me enraptured from the word go to the final, satisfying lines.
I’ll try to keep the plot’s description simple though Cornick grandly pulls off a big story. Part of the book surrounds Queen Elizabeth Stuart, a 17th-century monarch who’s been sent off to royal exile and dreams of a better world, one she and her husband hope to create through the use of a magical mirror and pearl. And then we have Holly Ansell in the present-day, whose brother Ben is missing, and who runs into other mysteries as she looks for him: like the aforementioned mirror and pearl, the diary of a courtesan she discovers on her search (that’s the novel’s third perspective), and the ghostly visions she keeps seeing as she lives and works in the village her brother was last in.
House of Shadows reads like a detective novel of sorts, with Holly on the search for her brother, feeling like every clue she solves in this larger mirror & pearl historical mystery is taking her closer to finding him. Cornick’s historical descriptions are lush and lovely and her depictions of complicated women interesting and astute. I love how she captures different personalities in this book and how she not only makes aha connections between the characters but also links them to moments in time. These women feel the weight of their personal (and sometimes global) histories, and that’s part of what makes them so compelling to watch—and root for.
Like Morton’s books, Cornick’s features a “historical” romance and a “contemporary” one. I had some slight issues with the pacing of the contemporary one but then it turned suspenseful in the way that I adore.
House of Shadows is a scrumptious treat, and one I heartily recommend as we run headlong into fall. Give me all the ghost stories (with romance and magic and mayhem!).
4.5 out of 5 stars
Thanks to Edelweiss+ for my complimentary ARC of this book. All opinions provided are my own.
The Magnolia Sword—a Mulan re-telling written by the inimitable Sherry Thomas—is a kick to the senses. It’s an evocative trip to ancient China told in the voice of a very resourceful, very brave woman, Mulan.
Mulan follows the dictates of her father and lives her public life in the guise of her long-dead twin brother. She’s the person who’ll represent her family in the long-held duel between her family and an enemy family, the Pengs, to determine which family will win a set of coveted blades, and she’s the person from her family who volunteers for the draft when soldiers come calling for men to protect their Empire.
No one can know her secret or she risks bringing dishonor on her family and making them lose the reduced possessions they have left. But it’s hard to keep a secret like this in the army when quarters are tight and conditions are rough, and the princeling who leads her into war might be the same man she’s responsible for dueling at home.
Sometimes hidden identity stories get kind of ridiculous because the author might attempt to maintain a story’s suspense by allowing her/his characters to look naïve/silly/incapable of seeing what’s right in front of them forgodssake. But I love how Thomas does it in The Magnolia Sword: how Mulan is questioning and skeptical regarding the identity of the princeling without being overly paranoid; how some questions are answered fairly soon but others are left in mystery until the end.
The revelations unfold in a way that makes sense for Mulan’s character, just as they make sense in terms of the princeling’s.
And speaking of the princeling, his characterization is divine. I never knew how much we need to read about heroes who are physically strong/willing to take on almost any threat and also freely admit their many fears until the princeling. His sensitivity—and my response to it—was at times surprising and feels refreshing.
Thomas’s powerful depiction of women in the story—chief among them Mulan—is even more nuanced. Some of them can nurse grudges as faithfully as they can nurse children. I love how astutely Thomas chooses when to put Mulan’s specific insecurities/pride/worries regarding her identification as a woman and her set of circumstances at the forefront, and when to put them in the background.
Mulan’s eyes are repeatedly opened throughout The Magnolia Sword and we’re reminded of truths with her. This book tells the story most of us (many of us?) have heard before, about a woman-soldier in disguise who fights for her empire, but it’s also a story about how words have an impact and how language and history matter, whether we’re talking on a personal level or a global.
In the end, The Magnolia Sword has flash and adventure and quite a lot of sweetness, but it also has the gorgeous impact--the whatagreatwriter moments--that I’ve come to associate with reading a Thomas book.
4.25 out of 5 stars.
(A note that felt out of place earlier in my review: I also appreciated how diverse the story is relationship-wise, and how Thomas doesn’t shy away from at least the suggestion of same sex relationships among men and relationships among people of different classes.)
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
Characters straddle the gray line in Kaylea Cross’s Vengeance series, and I love it. They’re not perfect, but they’re ultimately good people…who kill bad guys.
Listen, sometimes you want to read a book about leads who can rescue hostages, protect themselves, plot deviously for a good end, and oh yeah, fall in love. If that’s the case, sink into your favorite reading chair (the one your husband still makes fun of from college), pull up your favorite blanket (the one you’ve hidden from your dogs and kids), pull your snacks in close (the ones you’ve hidden from your dogs and kids), and start reading one of Kaylea Cross’s Vengeance books.
Covert Vengeance is the second book in Cross’s aforementioned series, and it had me captivated from the very first motorcycle chase. Once a government-sanctioned assassin, now an assassin running from the government (and others), Amber Brown believes she made a huge mistake. Members of her former team betrayed her, and out of revenge, she slowly turned them over to the Bad Guys one by one. But one of those team members might not have been guilty after all. Now Amber wants to rescue her from her kidnappers.
Hitman-with-a-conscience Jesse Cordova is hired by a mysterious person to kill Amber, but he trusts his instincts and accepts a job to help her with her rescue mission instead. Good thing he does, because Amber is very impressive and obviously has a heart, although the government program that trained her to be a ruthless assassin tried to crush that out of her.
Jesse pretty much immediately has feelings for Amber, but Amber’s not willing to commit. Then there’s the fact that someone is trying to kill Amber, and well, you can see how a romance between them would be difficult…but thank God, not impossible.
Covert Vengeance is wonderfully done with fantastic (and I don’t think I’m over-stating it?) action sequences. Cross is one of the best romantic suspense novelists I’ve read at writing physical scenes that are detailed without losing a sense of pace. Everything is fast, fast, fast, pretty violent at times, and overall cinematic.
But Cross doesn’t keep every scene at an 11, and that’s part of what makes this book so great. She writes confessional moments sensitively, drawing the characters closer together and allowing the reader to see the heart carried around in each character's impressively muscled physiques. It might be difficult to imagine how a book about a hitman and assassin could be sweet and tender, but it works here, mainly because it’s obvious they care about right and wrong and they’re both looking for a place to land (although Amber would probably deny that with every breath in her body).
In case it’s not clear: I’m a huge fan of Cross’s Vengeance series, of how she writes formidable women (and men), how she shows that being physically fierce and having a heart aren’t incompatible, and how she crafts books where great passion and (eventually love) are possible--even inevitable--with the right person…like your deadly-with-any-remotely-sharp-object soulmate.
5 out of 5 stars.
About the Author
When my toddler and infant sleep--or are otherwise engaged--I write, read, and eat lots of chocolate.