I received a complimentary copy of this anthology from Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
My biggest snow story experience? When I was 11 or 12, two of my cousins, my siblings, and I got snowed in at my divorced dad and his then girlfriend’s house for several days. By the end of it, my dad was threatening to rent a helicopter to get us returned home.
Because of this (despite this?), I can really respect a snowed-in story, especially of the let’s-fall-in-love-while-the-snow-falls variety. It just seems to work on an elemental level: the vibrancy of the colors, the isolation, the cocoon effect. Everything’s reduced to the people you’re with really, whether it’s the family starting to grate on your nerves or a potential love interest, like in the A Snowy Little Christmas anthology.
I was so excited to get a copy of this anthology, mainly because Kate Clayborn’s included and I could happily read her books all the time. They’re lovely. In the end, I loved Clayborn’s novella—as I had expected I would—I really enjoyed the one written by Tara Sheets, and found the first novella in the collection, written by Fern Michaels, to be not quite my preference.
I’ve never read a book by Fern Michaels before, and I didn’t have an idea of what to expect. Starry Night, her anthology contribution, follows Jessie, an advertising exec & secret relationship-advice radio host, as she repeatedly travels to the Croton-on-Hudson bookstore her uncle gave her to schedule renovations, relocate the books, etc. There, she finds the close-knit community she’s never had before and meets single dad and contractor Evan.
I had some trouble relating to the characters in this one. On one hand, the leads are mature and sophisticated; on the other, they come across as not very approachable and often old-fashioned to me. I also had difficulty with the story itself: it seems to use more telling vs. showing, and the romance is subdued and pretty vague, even in its conclusion.
Tara Sheets’s Mistletoe and Mimosas, the second novella in the collection, adorably pairs Layla, the heroine, with the long-remorseful man who was complicit in the bullying she experienced at high school. Both leads are admirable: Layla’s made a successful life for herself and is aware of her worth; Sebastian is very sorry for how he treated Layla in high school and determined to meet the challenge of showing her that.
This snowed-in story is sweet and gentle, and Sheets features enough intriguing characters from her other works that I'm planning on reading more.
My favorite story in the collection, Kate Clayborn’s Missing Christmas, picks up with characters introduced in her debut novel, Beginner’s Luck. Kristen and Jasper are co-workers and very close friends, and while both have secret feelings for the other, neither wants to destroy what they have on the slim chance that they could have something more. But luckily for us, Kristen and Jasper get snowed in at a one-bed cabin.
Clayborn’s a master at subtlety; I love the little touches and observations her characters make. Everything feels so important, so critical, because Clayborn makes the reader feel the leads’s yearning. Missing Christmas is the steamiest story in the anthology and the relationship between Kristen and Jasper has the most depth. Their HEA feels totally believable to me given how thoughtfully Clayborn portrays the history of their close relationship. This novella gives me major feels.
All things considered, A Snowy Little Christmas is a delightful holiday offering comprised of three novellas with vastly different styles and steam levels. There’s good romance representation here, but the flip side is that like me, you might find yourself adoring one story, liking one, and struggling with another.
3.5 stars out of 5.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Edelweiss+ but all opinions provided are my own.
There’s an unorthodox path to HEA in Sophie Jordan’s The Duke’s Stolen Bride. Every chapter’s exciting, unpredictable, & entertaining, probably a natural state of affairs given the book’s fantastic author and the book’s premise, which brings together two leads with totally opposite personalities & values into a temporary sexual arrangement that’s so consuming/delicious/seductive it takes over their lives.
Marian, whom we met in the previous Rogue Files book as Clara’s companion, is beautiful & well-mannered, a former woman of privilege who’s now poor and responsible for herself & her siblings. When she’s offered marriage by a wealthy but reprehensible man, she decides that her “freedom” is more important & the best way she can find that & provide for her family is to embrace a life as a great courtesan instead.
Only, she’s innocent & inexperienced. As part of her overarching courtesan strategy, she approaches the Duke, aka The Depraved Duke, aka Nate, to train her in seduction.
Jordan writes an asshole hero well. She shares the circumstances that help explain how Nate got to this place, and those are the potential seeds for redemption that make it possible to connect with a hero who, at the beginning of the book, is condescending & rude, & frequently levels cutting remarks at an admirable woman doing what she can to keep her family afloat.
Fortunately, Marian's up to the challenge, and the ways that she jars him throughout the book—with her sharp wit & spirit and later, her passion, kindness, & beauty, give the book a sweetness, as well as a sexiness (that first seduction scene!) that captivates.
Nestled into this story of who’s-seducing-whom is also a consideration of how poverty limits options for Marian & other women. While that’s not a new observation, Jordan writes Marian as someone who’s really self-aware of her previous privilege (in a manner that I loved), what the current stakes are, why she’s doing what she's doing, & what could possibly go wrong for herself & her family at every step.
The Duke also shows (necessary) growth, though he’ll likely always be rough around the edges when it comes to warmth & approachability with those who aren’t Marian & their family.
Very sexy and peppered with surprises, The Duke’s Stolen Bride is a delight. But where the book falls a bit short for me is in terms of the development of their relationship. Marian & Nate are intimate with each other in some big ways, but I missed conversations about both the basic things and the deeper. Their HEA rang true for me but I wanted more.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Edelweiss+ but all opinions provided are my own.
Don’t get it twisted: I’m determined to soak up every moment of this fall (even with the 90-degree temps--unbelievable!), but that doesn’t stop me from occasionally dipping my toes into the holiday season with my reading material. Jill Shalvis’s Wrapped Up in You is adorable and heart-warming and had me feeling those let’s-get-together-and-appreciate-what-we-have vibes that I love the most about the holidays.
Ivy Snow is prickly and sassy with a heart of gold; she’s also a hard worker who’s very practically built her food truck business up and a dreamer who envisions how she can use her hard-won success to buy her own condo and have a real home for once. She wants to embrace her new pretty life in San Francisco, and part of that is learning what it means to have friends and be a friend (which also, to her, means lying to said friends about what her childhood was like & what kind of person her good-natured but trouble-making brother actually is).
Cop Kel O’Donnell’s in town after a police-related betrayal and injury sidelines him, visiting his cousin Caleb. Ivy’s tacos and personality set him on fire, but he doesn’t like lies or liars, and as much as he likes Ivy, he can tell that she’s lying. Still, he can see her beautiful heart and the intention behind her lies, and despite the fact that he’s only visiting, he’s tempted by Ivy and the sexual tension blazing between them…
This book is an absolute delight. It’s funny, and in thoughtful ways, too, from the characters’s interactions to the chapter epigraphs. Shalvis peoples Wrapped in You with diverse representation, and in general, all of her characters—with their distinctive personalities—shine. It’s a world that’s really lovely to step into.
Lovely even if the “falling apart” of Ivy and Kel’s romance is so well done that I was kinda steamed at one of the leads in my first read-through…at least until I made it to the brava-worthy grovel and Epilogue. The bottom line is that both leads in this book have to learn to trust and that’s something that Shalvis lays out beautifully and skillfully in Wrapped Up in You.
My last bit of good news: the follow-up skim I did of this book indicates that it’s going to age really well. I loved it even more.
I received a complimentary e-copy of this book from Netgalley which I used for my review and a physical copy of the book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
Welcome to the blog tour!
It might be 90+ degrees in Eastern Tennessee today but it's October 2nd and I'm determined to live my best fall life. What better way to start the best of all months than with a delightfully twisted gothic tale/mystery/romance like Hester Fox's The Widow of Pale Harbor? Check out the blurb, my review, and info about where to find Hester and her book below!
A town gripped by fear. A woman accused of witchcraft. Who can save Pale Harbor from itself?
Maine, 1846. Gabriel Stone is desperate to escape the ghosts that haunt him in Massachusetts after his wife’s death, so he moves to Maine, taking a position as a minister in the remote village of Pale Harbor.
But not all is as it seems in the sleepy town. Strange, unsettling things have been happening, and the townspeople claim that only one person can be responsible: Sophronia Carver, a reclusive widow who lives with a spinster maid in the eerie Castle Carver. Sophronia must be a witch, and she almost certainly killed her husband.
As the incidents escalate, one thing becomes clear: they are the work of a twisted person inspired by the wildly popular stories of Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. And Gabriel must find answers, or Pale Harbor will suffer a fate worthy of Poe’s darkest tales.
Hester Fox comes to writing from a background in the museum field as a collections maintenance technician. This job has taken her from historic houses to fine art museums, where she has the privilege of cleaning and caring for collections that range from paintings by old masters to ancient artifacts to early-American furniture. She is a keen painter and has a master’s degree in historical archaeology, as well as a background in medieval studies and art history. Hester lives outside Boston with her husband.
There’s no other way to put it: Hester Fox’s books are majorly creepy.
She excels at crafting an atmosphere-driven story: a gloomy setting and terrifying imagery, peppered with stops/starts/and misdirections. While reading the opening I got goosebumps because I was anticipating some upcoming terror, only to soon realize that I had been fooled. I love how Fox isn’t afraid to mess with reader’s expectations; that’s part of the unpredictability of the book and the potential scare factor, really.
As you might expect given the above, then, The Widow of Pale Harbor’s very dramatic and also pretty gory at times. It’s not a light and easy read even if the relationship between Sophronia and Gabriel—fraught as it sometimes is—offers a lovely respite from the terrors of everything else.
Those terrors? Abuse. Dead animals. Dead people.
Even other relationships in the book are scary: they’re often judgmental, suffocating, violent, or guilt-producing, all of which increase the tension in the book and lead to more questions. After all, how can Sophronia or Gabriel discover the murderer when each person in their village has her/his own motivations, fears, and secrets? The closest friend you have—or the man you’re lusting after—might be the one causing such terror in Pale Harbor.
The yikes factor’s pretty high with this one, and that might be just what you’re looking for in your October read. It’s also written by someone who obviously cares about a good scary story, who’s adept at pacing and pulling the reader from one fright to another until the book explodes like a jack in the box and the secrets come lunging out.
4 out of 5 stars.
You can get your copy of THE WIDOW OF PALE HARBOR here:
And you can follow Hester here:
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.
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.)
About the Author
When my toddler and infant sleep--or are otherwise engaged--I write, read, and eat lots of chocolate.