Thanks to Netgalley for my complimentary copy of this book. All opinions provided are my own.
If there’s ever a book to get lost in, it’s Jenn Bennett’s The Lady Rogue.
First of all, that title. Second, nearly every other thing about the book.
I’m not kidding: this cross-Asia-and-Europe adventure of thrilling proportion—set in 1937 and featuring an intrepid heroine and hero on the hunt—is so great. The Lady Rogue seems to have been created with maximum entertainment in mind, from the journal excerpts to the legends to the Big Bad Ring itself, and it succeeds beautifully. It’s sassy, smart, and bold, like the heroine herself.
Theodora (Theo) Fox can’t believe it when her father Richard “Damn” Fox abandons her with a companion so that he can search for a magical ring believed to have belonged to Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula. But her father doesn’t return when he’s supposed to. Instead, Richard sends Huxley Gallagher, or Huck, in his stead, with his mysterious journal and warnings about the danger his search has put them all in.
Theo’s great quest takes off with her looking for her father, who is looking for a ring, while she’s accompanied by the young man, Huck, who broke her heart.
Bennett makes these characters come alive. Their motivations, quirks, and insecurities are blissfully and skillfully made clear, and I felt like I came to know them. Also like I would love to read a book written by nearly any one of them, or perhaps join them for tea on a very long train ride.
And you can see history’s charisma in The Lady Rogue, too: it’s in the description of the hotels and trains, the towns Theo and Huck visit, the caravan they stay in, the stretches of wilderness they pass through, and it feels cinematic in nature. Like one of those gorgeous classic films, when everything was done in a big way.
Zingers fly between Theo and Huck but there's also an underlying camaraderie that can't be ignored, even if they were estranged for over a year before the book opens. The book is pretty chaste, but the passionate feeling between Theo and Huck explodes off the page.
I’ve been a huge fan of Jenn Bennett’s YA contemporaries (if you haven’t read them yet, do that already), and I was so excited to see that she was writing YA historical fantasy and that she was super excited about this book. You can sense that excitement—that joy—from beginning to end. The Lady Rogue is fun, even as Theo and Huck are scared (nearly) witless, even as they try to figure out a way out of the messes they’re in.
And I'd follow them every step of the way, because Bennett makes it impossible to do otherwise.
"IF THERE'S ANYTHING WORSE THAN KNOWING YOU'RE OUT OF PLACE, IT'S BEING TOLD YOU FIT IN."
I've seen a quote before about how lucky we are to live in the time of Beyonce. Yes, a million times, yes. But I think we’re also lucky to live in a time where romance novels are so stupendously written, when they’re not afraid of tackling critical national conversations we’re having, when they articulate our most fervent (and most hopeful/lovely) wishes more beautifully than we could have ever hoped, and when they light us on fire with the joy of companionship, love, and sex.
The historical romances I’ve read lately have been particularly insane (in a great way): first, I read Julie Anne Long’s Lady Derring Takes a Lover; then I read Tessa Dare’s The Wallflower Wager; and finishing this triumvirate of books that Left Me Awed is Sarah MacLean’s Brazen and the Beast, which has gotten a lot of hype and is even better than I had hoped.
The heroine of MacLean’s BandB, Hattie, is bold and confident, a real go-getter who’s been battered by the less than nice opinions of others but who gives those opinions a big f you, and Whit is divine, an alpha you don’t want to anger but who also possesses a luscious weakness for a close circle of people, the heroine foremost among them.
Their romance is stellar and MacLean’s writing should be held up as an example of how people should/could write about love. Also being a woman who is constantly critiqued or found wanting. Also how to be brave. On The Voice, the coaches tell the contestants not to stay at a 10 the whole time—to choose when they do a run—and MacLean observes those dynamics, Blake, Adam, Alicia, and Kelly (my favorite coaches)! She’s delicate when she needs to be and can decimate an army of foes when she needs to, and every bit of it is dramatic and suspenseful in the way that the best romances—whether they’re romantic suspense or not—are.
This is a gushing review on par with how I used to attack people with compliments after I had one or two drinks in college, but it’s the truth. Historical romance is for everyone and this book in particular could teach people more than a thing or two.
Hattie and Whit are for the ages (and Nora and Nik too).
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher but all opinions provided are my own.
Would you like your hero and heroine to be overall decent people but slightlyyyyy sketchy? And they live in a black+white=gray world, where they’re willing to risk everything to do what they feel like is right (even if it’s something that’s not technically legal?) And how steamy do you want it? Sexy and bold, with heroes who usually aren’t super expressive, even in the ending, but who would do anything for their partner?
You’ve come to the right place.
Outfox is Brown’s latest release, a dramatic, high-octane, high-stakes ride.
Drex Easton has a personal stake in finally capturing the con-man/serial killer he’s been following for years. When Drex’s partners tell him they think they’ve found the killer in Charleston, South Carolina, he’s only too willing to risk everything—including a superior FBI agent’s wrath—to try to take this guy down. Drex’s case is pretty slim, especially since the guy Jasper is married, which would be a pretty big breach in the alleged con-man/serial killer’s MO.
Jasper’s wife is Talia Shafer, and as soon as Drex sees her, bam, it’s instalust all the way. Does she know that her husband is almost definitely the murderer Drex has been chasing? Is she complicit in his crimes? Or is she an innocent victim?
Sandra Brown really knows how to write alpha heroes who are instantly stricken by the heroine, and I love it. The slick, manipulative personality that Drex takes on is no match for his lust and while his devotion to his admirable mission is stronger, he can’t help but want Talia in every way.
But there was a pretty big problem for me. On one hand, it’s uber sensual/exciting/passionate, how Drex’s drawn to her even though he knows he shouldn’t be and vice versa. On the other, Talia’s married, and she’s the wife of the man he’s hunting, so it’s not even close to being aboveboard. It’s part of that whole black+white=gray world I mentioned earlier.
Like in all of Brown’s books that I’ve read, the mystery is compelling and Brown’s writing is smart and punchy, but there are some aspects of the plot that I wasn’t as convinced by. There was at least one substantial conclusion that Drex and his partners seem to jump to, and I’m obviously not an expert, but I was surprised no one was saying, let’s wait before we get totally crazy here.
And a bigger lapse for me is that I wanted more from Talia’s characterization throughout the book. She’s beautiful and warm and ambitious—all the good things—but without getting too spoiler-y, the twists she takes later would have been even more convincing had there been more notice before. As it is, there were moments when her responses almost seemed shallow because they felt a little too spontaneous.
These plot quibbles aside, Outfox is uber romantic (if you can ignore that whole already-married thing--hey! her husband is probably a serial killer), with one of Brown’s more expressive heroes, and a really lovely Epilogue. All-around it’s a 3.5-4 star read for me, a gray area that I’m happy to leave gray.
(I received a complimentary copy of this ARC via Edelweiss+ but all opinions provided are my own.)
Tessa Dare’s The Wallflower Wager is an absolute, freaking delight. There’s a conflict in the book. A beautifully articulated, smart conflict, in fact. But still The Wallflower Wager feels so easy to read, so effortlessly written, like the story was inevitable.
It’s a dream of a historical romance, and it’s got my historical romance catnip: a strong, hard-working man overcomes all the odds against him to build a fortune but has locked away his heart in the process (and would, in fact, deny that he has a heart to begin with), and an aristocratic lady who looks soft, maybe is soft in some ways, but is stronger than anyone—but the hero (eventually)—gives her credit for.
Despite her family’s annoyance, Lady Penelope Campion has a need and gift for taking care of injured and/or unwanted animals. Do not call Gabriel, the Duke of Ruin, an injured or unwanted animal, despite the traumatic past that he keeps hidden from nearly everyone. He’s strong and powerful, and he will crush the aristocracy’s assets like a bigger, more muscular Pretty Woman-esque Edward Lewis, okay?
At the age of 26, Penny’s pretty much firmly on the shelf, with no apparent intention or desire of coming off it. She's content with her life on the very, very furthest fringes of aristocratic society. In fact, she’s so reluctant to return to her familial estate that she works with Gabriel to keep her in London. And what are his motivations for helping Penny retain her fairly independent status when he is self-admittedly so selfish? Gabriel needs Penny to remain in her current London home so that she’ll drive up the worth of the neighboring property he just purchased.
God, this book is sweet, and Dare draws out the building relationship between Penny & Gabriel exquisitely. Everyone deserves a champion, and Penny & Gabriel are that for each other. They’re also fantastically sensual, and those scenes deserve mention as well. Penny is a lesson in taking control of and pleasure in one’s sexuality. The way that she finds herself is lovely and sexy as heck and has all the steam that Gabriel wishes his new bathtub pipes had.
Dare’s also known for her humor, and this book sparkles with it. A special scene involving a goat (no spoiler alert here 😉) had me dying and appreciating how Dare tells a love story in a totally new way.
In case you couldn’t tell, I loved this book. It had me smiling on the outside and inside and wishing for a second, third, and fourth epilogue.
TNW Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.
Q: what’s your favorite romance with a wealthy working-class hero and aristocratic heroine?
past sexual abuse.
I received a complimentary ARC of this book via Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
I hate feeling like I’m not liked, and that self-consciousness often makes me try harder, which makes me resent myself for feeling like I have to try when the little article in the back of Glamour says that by this age I shouldn’t care what people think…
That horror show was just a glimpse into my occasional thought process. I know a lot of women who feel like they need to always be liked—like there’s something wrong with them if they aren’t—and that’s why it’s sometimes such a relief to read a heroine whose number of GAF’s is severely limited.
Freya Stewart de Moray of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Not the Duke’s Darling is on a quest. She’s a spy for a group of women known as the Wise Women, ancient protectors of women in Scotland and England. Her current spy job is finding out what leverage they can wield against Lord Randolph, a man championing a revised Witch Act which will target women like the Wise Women.
Freya has no time for bitter enemies, including Christopher Renshaw, the Duke of Harlowe, whom she considers responsible for the tragedies in her family. Or the blasted attraction she feels for him, despite everything. Or for the other ghosts of her past, including her childhood best friend, Messalina. Etc. Etc.
Christopher refers to Freya’s “prickliness,” and that seems as good a word as any other. She’s also brave and smart and (eventually) willing to admit her mistakes, and that growth on both lead’s part was something I loved about this book. It’s about what they can let go of and what they can grab onto, and Hoyt writes their redemption arcs swimmingly.
Also? Hoyt takes passion to another level in her books, and this one is earthy and cheek-flushing in the best of ways. Trust me on this: there’s nothing polite about how she writes sex scenes, even if it is 1760 England at a fancy house party.
Not the Duke’s Darling has the grit and sensuality that I’ve come to associate with Hoyt’s work. It also has the female empowerment that I crave; there’s no way in hell that Freya will settle for anything, and that just might include marriage to Christopher (TBD. Read the book).
This historical has the octopus-like feel of a book setting up the rest of the series: there were a lot of characters & storylines here, but I have high hopes that the mysteries beginning to percolate in my head will be solved soon. Please God.
Not the Duke’s Darling is another really great Hoyt historical, and another reminder that I need to read everything in her catalog.
4 out of 5 stars.
I won a beautiful hard-copy of this book from a Goodreads contest. Thanks, Goodreads & Gallery Books!
PI Kira Vance sustains no major injuries when someone starts shooting people in the house where she’s working on a case, but her employer-mentor Ollie Novak dies. What had he just found out about the murder case they were working on, and did it get him killed?
Within hours Kira’s hired to discover the answer to those questions. Keeping her safe is Jeremy Owen, a former soldier and current bodyguard of sorts who Kira’s also dangerously attracted to.
So let’s see: so far we have an urgent mystery *ticks fingers*, danger, and a sweeeet romance plot. Everything that I needed to keep me reading Laura Griffin’s Her Deadly Secrets and finish it in one day.
Some of my friends like thrillers but haven’t necessarily made the leap to romantic suspense. Laura Griffin is a great place to start. Like Karen Rose’s romantic suspense books or Kylie Brant’s Mindhunter series, Griffin’s books are smart and gripping, plus they have kissing!
The mystery angle of Her Deadly Secrets is adeptly written, with a cast of main and secondary characters who are both knowledgeable and committed to discovering the answers behind Ollie’s murder. Griffin unravels the whodunit clue by compelling clue, as the exceptionally competent Kira and Jeremy race around the city following leads and trying to avoid getting killed next.
Although I wanted a bit more at the end, the romance plot, too, is satisfying. Griffin builds up the sexual tension between Kira & Jeremy, as mainly Jeremy tries to resist acting on the feelings between them and possibly being taken off Kira’s security. When they finally relent, it’s lovely and passionate, and has an obvious layer of “deep-like-maybe-more” underneath it all, which I am all here for. But Griffin keeps up the suspense here too: will the physical attraction and their feelings be enough to keep them together, even after the case is *hopefully* solved?
Kira and Jeremy are just the latest in a line of Griffin’s heroes and heroines who gave me the heart-eyes, and whom I hope to encounter again, the next time that someone faces danger in a future Griffin book. And I will be reading more, because Griffin writes thoughtful & sexy romantic suspense, and if I haven’t told you that enough, that’s my thing.
Q: do you think you'd like to be a PI? I actually thought to myself yesterday--at the beginning of the book--that I would, but I was reminded by the end why I couldn't/shouldn't.
I received a complimentary copy of this book via Edelweiss+ but all opinions provided are my own.
You know that line in Friends when Monica says on Richard’s answering machine, “I’m breezy!” Well Kerry Winfrey’s Waiting for Tom Hanks is breezy. It’s adorable and quirky and pretty much effervescent, and I read it in one delightful afternoon.
This book has a really cute love story, but what really hit me with the feels is how everything about their story—and so much of the heroine’s life philosophy—is a tribute to the rom-com. You all, I love a rom-com, and the better it is, the happier I am…but my secret is: it doesn’t even have to be very good for me to really like it.
Waiting for Tom Hanks is a romance. It’s also chock-full of insightful and funny commentary on the rom-com, and most of it, though not all, is provided by our heroine, Annie Cassidy. Rom-coms remind Annie of her best memories with her mother, and the greatest representation of the future love that her mom believed Annie had coming to her is Tom Hanks. The. Tom. Hanks. *sigh.
No one quite understands her thing for Tom Hanks, especially film star Drew Danforth, a Chris Pratt-like hero who has transformed from approachable cute to ripped action star, and who is notorious for the pranks he pulls on red carpets.
This is not a book without substance, but the problems are overcome fairly easily and it reads smoothly. I smiled quite a lot, I think; I also got secondhand embarrassment for Annie, who is smart and ambitious with an admirable sense of humor, and who also gets herself into some awkward situations.
Though I tend to prefer a bit more drama in my reads, Waiting for Tom Hanks made a lovely, funny afternoon for me, offering a heroine and a love story that feels fresh and new, and reminding me of the parts of my rom-com memory that are still powerful enough to give me heart eyes.
Want other romances set in the film industry? Try Melonie Johnson’s Once Upon a Bad Boy (reviewed on my blog) and Julie James’s Just the Sexiest Man Alive.
Everything about Christina Lauren’s The Unhoneymooners makes me happy.
The cover. Hubba hubba.
The premise. It’s a fake romance between two adversaries who just want to cash in on the honeymoon that their respective food-poisoned siblings—married to each other—can no longer go on.
The heroine. Defensive, funny, and passionate, who makes sometimes makes snap judgments but is working on it, dammit.
The hero. Stuffy, but only around her, who is not unreasonable but who does believe buffets are death wishes for everyone and that's just a fact.
Other things to mention: the humor, which is out of this world, and the fantastic way the authors have drawn the family dynamics here. It feels authentic with their fights and their squabbling and their digs at other’s expense, but it’s also lovely.
What a wonderful escape.
Q: Would you pretend to be someone else--like your twin sibling--to go on a free vacation? I think I would, but I would be terrified. *still a goody-goody.
Thanks to Grand Central Pub & Forever Pub for this beautiful print copy, which I read for my review, and Netgalley for a complimentary e-copy. All opinions provided are my own.
It’s a dramatic beginning: lightning flashes. The heroine’s brother is bleeding out on a table. Soldiers are coming, ready to make an arrest. And our heroine Katherine holds a gun on our hero, believing him to be a threat to her family.
It only gets better from there. A Rogue by Night is full of intrigue, plots, and drama. It’s also terribly sweet, with a swoonworthy love story and two main characters who deserve every bit of happiness that’s coming their way—provided they can be wily enough, daring enough, to grab it.
Bowen does a stellar job portraying Katherine and our hero Harland—making them aspirational characters that also feel human. Characters I admired and also grew to love.
Katherine’s an intrepid heroine, willing to do pretty much anything to save the people she loves, and even take care of random strangers she knows need medical care. She’s resourceful and talented, able to stitch someone up and dive to bring up a smuggler’s haul and put on an Oscar-winning performance like a pro. She’s beautiful and in case it wasn’t clear—really smart—but I wasn’t annoyed by her because *ticks fingers*: she’s also highly defensive, she jumps to conclusions, particularly about our hero, and she’s not always tactful.
All of this made me love her more. Yay for imperfect heroines.
And Harland? He is a dream. He's also selfish a couple of times, willing to do things that would keep him closer to Katherine even as he kept his secrets. And again, his mistakes, his fears, his humanity made me love him more.
A Rogue by Night is a big slice of sweetness, with some tartness thrown in. It’s another wonderful romantic offering from an author I think needs to be read more. Thanks to Kelly Bowen for writing a duo that I’ll be smiling about for a good while to come.
Q: What’s one of your favorite books featuring a physician as a main character?
I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
Sometimes you have a satisfying relationship with a man who seems like exactly what you want; other times he dies and you discover that he’s already married with another (inadvertent) mistress on the side.
But in this story about female empowerment, the three women form a pact to help each other weed through other possible liars/cheaters/unsuitables, and a true female friendship is born.
Passion on Park Avenue sparkles, but it’s also substantive, with characters who have suffered their share of heartbreaks even if they are all rich and pretty. Layne is a beautiful writer; every sentence falls smoothly, every character is fleshed-out, and as a reader, I had all the faith that she was taking me to a stellar HEA in the specific lovely way that Layne does it.
Each wronged woman’s voice in Passion on Park Avenue packs a punch, and Naomi’s is my favorite. She’s a one-liner champ, usually aimed toward the man who wronged them all. She’s sophisticated and determined, wry and intimidating, and also, far underneath, scared. She’s been carrying a lot of baggage, and part of it involves our hero, Oliver, who used to torment her as a child, and part of it involves Oliver's dad, who was awful.
But you can’t keep a boss heroine down, especially this one, who is unapologetically ambitious and determined (even if she can’t manage to make herself reveal her real identity to Oliver). This becomes even more of a pickle after she deliberately pursues an apartment in their building under Oliver's misapprehension...
The secret identity trope is kind of a hard one for an over-sharer like myself. When I read books like this and the character thinks how they should tell the truth but…, I think: TELL IT ALREADY. It’s well done here—Layne makes it really clear why Naomi has such a hard time with it and why the past still has a stranglehold on her, the break-up will rip your heart out, and the reconciliation, which involves a literary allusion that always makes me beam, will piece it back together.
And speaking of piecing things together *wink* there are no explicit sex scenes in this book. This is not really a spoiler because Layne has shared this on her Instagram account. Is the book still really good? Yes. Is it still sexy? Yes. Did I miss the scenes? Yes.
What’s even better than finishing a book that grabs you by the heart? Knowing that there are at least two more coming. *Raises a mug of champagne in toast.
Q: what's your celebratory drink of choice? Mine is champagne.
About the Author
When my toddler and infant sleep--or are otherwise engaged--I write, read, and eat lots of chocolate.