I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Edelweiss+ but all opinions provided are my own.
There’s a special kind of magic in Julie Anne Long’s Palace of Rogues series. Earlier this year I fell in love with Lady Derring Takes a Lover—honestly one of the best romances I’ve ever read—and I only fell deeper with Long’s upcoming release, Angel in a Devil’s Arms.
With this book we’re welcomed back to The Grand Palace on the Thames, only the most wonderful place to stay in the world. Half-proprietor of the TGPotT, Angelique Breedlove wants nothing more than to continue living as she currently is: in safety and comfort, working hard with Delilah Hardy to make their business a success. (Pretty much as far from her previous life—at the mercy of men, including Delilah’s former husband—as possible.)
It seems like she might be able to do that until the arrival of Lucien Durand, a scandalous viscount presumed dead ten years ago. When he arrives at TGPotT, hell-bent on attaining the revenge against those who’ve wronged him & looking as gorgeous & dangerous as a snow leopard/Ian Somerhalder in any season of The Vampire Diaries, everything starts falling apart/coming together in the most glorious way.
The first thing that really needs to be said is that Julie Anne Long is an exquisite writer. This series has the feel of a classic in terms of how it’s written: the turns of phrase, the deliberation of the words, the precision, and yet, it’s modern, too. It’s beautiful and warm and beautiful in its warmth; Angel in a Devil’s Arms is unapologetically about love and kindness, acceptance, and I loved it. The lack of hypocrisy in the book’s leads, even at the lowest moment in the plot, is something to stand up and cheer about.
Then there’s the witty repartee, which is done so well that it comes across as aspirational and approachable. Angelique & Lucien's maneuvering with each other—by turns challenging and kind—takes place in the environs of TGPotT, one of the loveliest renderings of a place and community that I’ve read. Julie Anne Long writes fantastic romance, but she writes a fantastic ensemble, too. I think that I want boarder Delacorte to find someone as much as he does, and the sword scene in this romance is so sublime that I had to restrain my smile to less awkward proportions.
Lady Derring’s still my favorite (why do I feel the need to be so loyal to my favorite books by unnecessarily claiming them over and over again??) but this one only cements the initial impressions of the series for me. I could end with a string of adjectives that help describe my response to Angel in a Devil’s Arms, or I could just say: pick up this book, it will move you and you’ll be better all around for it.
I received a complimentary copy of the ARC--as well as these promotional materials--from Give Me Books Promotions, but all thoughts provided in my review below are my own. Thanks to Give Me Books Promotions for including me in the Release Day Blitz!
In my defense, I didn’t know she was his sister…
"Sexy and fun with a delicious hockey hero, DIRTY SECRET is great for fans of Elle Kennedy, Toni Aleo, and Sawyer Bennett. I devoured this book!" -NYTimes Bestseller Lexi Ryan
This team hates me. Something about my chronic case of resting prick face and that thing with the captain when the season started.
My fist, his jaw. Yeah, we go back and not in a good way.
Coach says no more “confrontational BS” or I don’t play at all. And that’s a hit my career in the NHL can’t take.
So the plan is simple. Keep my head down and finish out my contract with my fists checked.
There’s just one problem.
Allie. The girl from Vancouver eight months ago. The one with the sexy, shy, and sinfully bold smile and the sweetest, wettest mouth I ever tasted. The girl who blew my mind and then blew out of my life without giving me her number.
Turns out she’s the captain’s little sister.
And even though my career depends on it... I can’t stay away from her.
If you’ve been waiting for a new secret cinnamon roll hero to fall in love with, meet Vaughn Vassar. The possessor of Resting Prick Face and a bad rep, he’s also a Slayers hockey player who does nice things when no one’s watching. Another thing he’s hiding? His huge crush on Allie, the mysterious woman he had a one-night stand with almost a year ago who vanished before he could find out more.
Natalie “Allie” Baxter actually knew quite a lot about Vaughn, starting with the fact that Vaughn’s been her big brother Greg’s hockey archrival for years. Oof. But Natalie was drawn to him after years of casually watching him around the rink, and it was enough to wear down her shouldas for the night.
Eight months later they unexpectedly meet again at a bar in Chicago, and despite everything—his bad rep & plans to move to an Oregon team, his feud with her brother, her plans to have her own life outside of the NHL and its players—they want more. And more again.
I’ve said before that Mira Lyn Kelly is one of my fave contemporary romance writers and it’s because of books like Dirty Secret. While her books are on the lighter side of the angst spectrum, the characters still wrestle with topics—in this case, the pressure of parental expectations and feeling inferior to someone else—that a lot of people will relate to.
Kelly's love stories are magnetic and straightforward, and I just want to luxuriate in them even as I’m feverishly flipping the pages. And Dirty Secret’s also sweeter than most, with a hero & heroine who have often been ignored and misunderstood but who pay attention to each other *swoons and wonders if there’s anything sexier than actually seeing someone.*
There are a few moments in Dirty Secret when the transition feels a bit abrupt to me—and I’ll be honest, Allie’s big brother Greg, star of an earlier book in the series, Dirty Player, is so immature in this book at times that he kinda gets on my nerves (hey guy, don’t you get you’re messing with people’s lives here?!)—but overall, this book’s just as delectable as a…cinnamon roll.
4.25 stars out of 5.
When I get home, I kick my Chucks into the corner by the closet and look around my empty apartment feeling at loose ends. I don’t trust myself with the replay of the game I just watched. I can’t handle seeing Vaughn Vassar looking at me like that again tonight. Not without risking things neither of us ought to risk.
Closing my eyes, I slowly lower myself to sit at the stepdown to the living area and try to focus on all the reasons leaving the bar was the right thing to do. Telling myself that kiss from this afternoon was a mistake, no matter how good it felt.
I could be back at the bar in--
Knock, knock, knock.
Sucking in a startled breath, I push to my feet. My heart speeds as that restless feeling in my belly turns into a kind of instinctual pull that draws me to the door.
I don’t have to check to know this isn’t my brother.
It’s not George looking to chat, or Helene showing up with snacks and office gossip.
My fingers tingle as I reach for the knob, my heart races, and my mind empties of all the reasons this is a mistake. Of everything except the relief surging through my veins as I swing the door open. Vaughn is braced against the frame again. He’s lost the suit jacket, and his big arms are flexed and straining as he barely holds himself back.
“I shouldn’t be here,” he says, the words gravel rough and rubbing against me in ways that only make me want to hear more. “I don’t even have a fucking excuse to check on you.”
“But you came anyway,” I whisper, drinking him in.
“I came anyway.”
The muscle in his jaw jumps over and again as his silver eyes swirl with an intensity that matches the energy coming off him in waves. I shouldn’t be reaching for him, but I don’t think I could stop if I tried. I want this. I want him. My fingers curl into the gap between the buttons of his dress shirt and I tug.
There’s a beat of resistance when he pulls back and our eyes connect—and then he’s launching forward on a growl so savagely possessive, I feel it through the deepest part of me. That big arm I couldn't stop staring at sweeps around me as his mouth crashes against mine in a feral kiss. This isn’t tender or tentative. It’s desperate and hungry and has me half climbing his body before my shoulders hit the door he just swung shut with his foot.
Hands roaming over my thighs and ass, he alternates between gentle and desperate, stroking one second and gripping the next. Making me groan around the thrust of his tongue. Making me rock into that thick, steely ridge lodged between us.
“Allie, tell me this isn’t a mistake.”
I need more of his mouth, more of his kiss. More of his huge chest pressing hot and hard against my own so I can’t feel anything but him. “It’s not a mistake.”
It’s critical. Necessary.
It’s my first full breath in weeks, months. “We just—we just need to get it out of our system. That’s all.”
His nostrils flare, and his eyes burn over me as his hand tightens in my hair. “I don’t think—” But instead of finishing whatever he was going to say, he blows out a harsh breath and gives me a single nod.
And then I have it, the crush of his kiss.
Hard core romantic, stress baker, and housekeeper non-extraordinaire. Mira Lyn Kelly is the USA TODAY bestselling author of more than a dozen sizzly love stories with over a million readers worldwide. Growing up in the Chicago area, she earned her degree in Fine Arts from Loyola University and met the love of her life while studying abroad in Rome, Italy… only to discover he’d been living right around the corner from her back home. Having spent her twenties working and playing in the Windy City, she’s now settled with her husband in Minnesota, where their four amazing children and two ridiculous dogs provide an excess of action and entertainment.
I received a complimentary ARC of this book from Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
Alice Hoffman’s The World That We Knew is unforgettable. Set during the years 1941-1944 and featuring several different perspectives, The World answers the question of what we have to live for in a time of terrible loss and sorrow: love.
The book opens in Berlin, where Hanni’s husband has recently been murdered and her pre-teen daughter, Lea, attacked. As a Jewish woman, Hanni knows that her daughter will be safer somewhere else, but she also feels that she can’t leave her elderly mother behind to travel with her. In her desperation, Hanni pays someone to create a golem—made of clay, able to speak and to protect but bound by her master’s wishes—to travel with her daughter Lea. After the war, Lea must kill the golem, whom they’ve named Ava.
The juxtaposition of someone—Ava—being born into a world where so many are killed and dying is stunning. Devastating. Because Ava’s so very happy to be alive, even as horrific things are happening and even as she fears for her Jewish charge, Lea. Hoffman heartbreakingly complicates this, too; because Ava knows that her greatest responsibility, her obligation, her desire, as she comes to know Lea, is to keep Lea safe no matter what, an act which will eventually necessitate Ava’s own death.
Tangled in this story of Lea and Ava are other stories too: of Lea and Julien, a young man she meets in Paris who becomes a lodestar; Ettie, the golem’s creator; and Marianne, a former servant who worked in Julien’s home. Each story is beautifully told; each one tells a version of war where no one is unaffected, where everyone pays a great price but there is some redemption to be found, too.
The World that We Knew had my heart in its hands. It’s a big story—one that includes folklore and the concrete details of a people suffering and surviving, one that feels very much rooted within a particular time period and also part of a larger story about how humanity at its worst, and best, treats others. And it’s ultimately a celebration of love, of the sacrifice that love sometimes demands and the bravery that it can engender.
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.
"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.
About the Author
When my toddler and infant sleep--or are otherwise engaged--I write, read, and eat lots of chocolate.