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“The Devil’s Own Duke” by Lenora Bell

The Devil’s Own Duke is a historical romance that follows an unlikely couple- Lady Henrietta Prince, the daughter of a duke, and Ash Ellis, the gambler who turns her life upside down.

When her father’s heir unexpectedly dies, only child Lady Henrietta frog-marches her reluctant father to the marriage mart, telling him in no uncertain terms that he must wed and do his duty so that they may keep their estates in the family. Enter Ash Ellis, an underworld prince who claims to be the legitimate heir to the dukedom. While Henriette protests, her father is only too happy to welcome Ash to the family, and be freed from the need to marry and beget more offspring.

To preserve her family’s vineyards, her pride and joy, Henrietta agrees to a marriage of convenience with Ash, who seems bound and determined to sabotage all she has worked for. Henrietta knows that she can make her wine a success, if people would give English wine half a chance. Ash is determined to turn the estate towards profit, and keep his managing wife in her own sphere. What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

I loved Henrietta. Despite her naïveté, she is fairly sensible and the reader can really sympathize with her. She and Ash are both compelling protagonists, and even as they are at odds, their chemistry is off the charts. I’m personally a sucker for the lost heir trope, and this is also a bunch of other fun ones, like enemies-to-lovers and marriage of convenience. I think that a lot of the time we see young women taking charge of their lives in historicals it can come across as a bit far-fetched, but I love what I see here. Henrietta knows she can succeed, and always takes the best path to getting what she wants. Ash is obviously deceptive in his dealings with the ton, but not in a way which makes him distasteful. I really like him, and he definitely comes across as worthy by the end of the story.

The Devil’s Own Duke can be purchased wherever books are sold, or borrowed from your local library. The reviewer was provided with a copy by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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“The Last Graduate” by Naomi Novik

The second book in the Scholomance trilogy, The Last Graduate, follows El and her friends as they begin their senior year and preparations for the lethal graduation run. El also has to reckon with a warning she received from her mother, to stay away from Orion Lake, her kind-of-boyfriend.

Our reluctant protagonist has to deal with a terrible class schedule, the discomfort of being popular after years of social ostracism, and a host of other problems. El’s voice remains unique and prickly, the narrative style is one of my favorite things about this series. She’s snarky, and she would love to believe that she doesn’t care about people, but she can’t help it. El is a better person than she wants to be be, despite dire prophesies of her future.

I liked that Aadhya and Liu got a lot of time on the page, because their friendship is at least as important at the El-Orion relationship, and I love their dynamic. In particular, I liked the extra time we got to spend with Aadhya, because I think Liu got more characterization in the first book and this one really fleshed Aadhya out for me more.The new freshmen were pretty decent additions too. I think Orion took a pretty visible backseat in this one, but he still has an arc and it works for the book. He had a lot going on in A Deadly Education and it makes sense to divert focus a little more and really zoom in on some other stuff, like El’s journey.

The thing that most bothered me about the previous book was the first third kind of feeling like an info-dump, but this one didn’t have that problem. El’s voice is pretty chatty, but it comes across naturally and I liked it. The controversy about the first book and potential racial insensitivity made me inclined to read this one a little more closely, but I don’t think there’s anything racist in this book. Overall, I really loved the book, but beware the cliffhanger ending! If the ending of the last book was difficult, just wait until you read this one.

This reviewer was given an advanced readers’ copy in exchange for an honest review. The Last Graduate can be purchased wherever books are sold, or borrowed from your local library.

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“The Charm Offensive” by Alison Cochrun

The Charm Offensive is a queer contemporary romance starring an unlikely pair brought together by strange circumstances. It is a sweet, hot story, and a promising debut from queer writer Alison Cochrun.

Dev fell in love with happily ever after as a boy, and now he makes real ones on TV, as one of the crew of a Bachelor-esque dating show. Unfortunately, Dev is nursing a broken heart going into this season, following his breakup with his long term boyfriend Ryan, who also works on the show. Dev is prepared to power through filming on comfort Oreos, until the season’s Prince Charming puts a snag in his plans.

Dev is used to handling the female talent, the contestants for the prince’s heart, while his ex takes care of the prince. Charlie is no ordinary prince. He’s uncomfortable being touched, he doesn’t play well to camera, and he nearly falls off his horse at the first shoot. Despite being angelically beautiful, Charlie is possibly the most awkward person to ever have a crown perched atop his golden curls. So, Dev is set the most challenging assignment of his career: Cyrano the prince of disaster through a compelling season of reality TV.

Both of the main characters are absolutely to die for- Charlie is an adorable disaster while Dev is an ultra-competent mess, and they compliment each other entirely. I love the mental health rep for both characters, and the queer rep as well. I think LGBTQ+ stories can sometimes be stymied by the “coming out” narrative but this one is all smooth sailing. I love Charlie’s emotional intelligence and his kindness, he’s what I want romance heroes to be like moving forward. Dev is so special, I love his realization about choosing himself and getting what he deserves.

The secondary characters are also amazing- my favorite was Parisa, but Jules is adorable and I hope she gets a book! I think any lover of queer stories will be a fan, but especially those who loved Red White and Royal Blue or Cat Sebastian fans.

The reviewer was provided with a copy of this book for review. You can purchase The Charm Offensive anywhere books are sold, or borrow it from your local library.

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“A Lot Like Adiós” by Alexis Daria

A Lot Like Adiós is an amazing new contemporary romance from Alexis Daria , following Michelle Amato, cousin to the heroine from You Had Me at Hola, and her one-that-got-away, Gabe.

Gabe and Mich were best friends and neighbors, but Gabe ran away from his family (and by extension Michelle) after high school. He started his life over on the other side of the country, while Michelle got on with her life. Michelle is successful, motivated, and intentionally single, with little desire to cave to her family’s marriage-minded proddings. Gabe is equally unattached, focusing on expanding his business. When chance throws Gabe back into Michelle’s orbit, the two have a lot of tension to work out, and a lot of history to untangle. Michelle is still angry, and Gabe hasn’t fully moved on from what made him leave.

This book bangs, just leading with that. Michelle and Gabe have crazy chemistry and seeing them try to work that out, first physically and then emotionally, really works. I’m also a sucker for a lot of the tropes in this one- it’s a second chance, childhood best friends, enemies-to-lovers, and secret-FWB. This is all catnip for me. Just like You Had Me at Hola, these characters have issues that are backed up by a strong emotional core, making the conflict between them feel real and urgent. I think the family stuff (on both sides) was handled very well, without minimizing the past. I loved this book, I think it’s incredible. Definitely read it if you liked YHMaH, I think it’s even better.

The reviewer was provided with a copy of this book for review. You can purchase A Lot Like Adiós anywhere books are sold, or borrow it from your local library.

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“Believe in Me” by Ella Quinn

I’m just going to lead with my HATRED of this book. A lot of books, even if I know they don’t hold up under analysis, I can just enjoy. But this book is so riddled with plot holes, dropped threads, and themelessness that just thinking about it makes me mad.

The reason I’m so angry about this book is that I loved the first Worthington book, Three Weeks to Wed. I loved Grace, and her romance with Matt was compelling. Quinn does a great job setting up a couple, and presenting reasonable obstacles. Matt wants to marry Grace, but she has to prioritize being her siblings’ guardian. Merton desires Dotty, but he needs to get over himself and not be an ass anymore. Patience loves Wolverton, but can’t marry again and be away from her daughters. Rothwell and Louisa have a connection, but his prospects appear bleak. These are all compelling problems, and they have to be resolved so the couple can be together. In the end, they put their heads together and find ways to get through issues. That’s what makes The Worthingtons work.

This book does not. It is such a mess, I hardly know where to start.

Lady Augusta Vivers is facing her debut with no desire to settle down- she wants to pursue an education instead. The only avenue through which she can pursue university attendance would be in Padua, Italy, far from her home and hearth. While Augusta’s large family has thus far supported her eclectic studies, they are almost uniformly disapproving of her desire to defer marriage. This is the first thing that pissed me off- the very unconventional Worthingtons are annoyed that one of their teenagers doesn’t want to marry someone her first season???

Patience in particular was a thorn in my side this entire book. The whole family has marriage on the mind for Augusta, and at one point Matt says that they just want her to be happy, and that means marriage and babies. VOM. I know historical romance is often a babies-ever-after subgenre, but come on! I feel like there are enough Worthingtons, they need not continue to breed incessantly. Augusta clearly states her ambitions and what would make her happy to her family, and they do not care in the least. They think that love is the most important thing, and Augusta cannot know her own mind. Patience is so adverse to her daughter attending university that she is angry whenever Augusta turns down a proposal- despite the fact that Patience herself made a bad marriage at a young age. It’s just exhausting, because the book keeps telling us how smart and talented Augusta is, but the characters just decide that she doesn’t know what’s good for her.

The male lead, Phineas, is pretty okay. He too bucks convention, being unstylishly bookish and interested in other cultures. His family tells him that he must wed, because his sister-in-law has produced four girls, and thus far, no heir. This is another huge plot hole- the reason they want Phineas to marry with haste is that they don’t have an heir. But Phineas and his brother are both healthy, and there is no reason for undue worry. I would kind of get it if his brother was dying, or infertile, but a) four kids in seven years is a lot, get off of her, and b) there is literally no rush. I would kind of get it if they expressed concern about Phineas’ travels being dangerous, but that’s never an issue. It’s just a contrivance.

The two meet and have chemistry, but Augusta’s yearning for higher education and Phineas’ orders to marry quickly don’t mesh. Then, the “plot” as it were, commences in earnest. Phineas essentially stalks Augusta, with the permission of her family, and they traipse across Europe together, each in love with the other but neither willing to talk about it or deal with it productively. This whole section of the book is a huge drag with almost nothing of interest. They meet some random Europeans, interact with characters we don’t care about, and pine for each other. They enjoy traveling together, which would certainly be important if they decide to wed and share their lives, but could have been conveyed better.

Another fun (read: insufferable) contrivance is that every man Augusta meets falls in love with her. The reason given for this is that she is a good listener? But Phineas clarifies for the reader that she isn’t usually listening when men monologue at her, she’s just kind of vacantly polite. And isn’t that what every debutant is trained to be??? Inoffensive, without distinctive personality or off-putting human emotions. Aside from being beautiful and wealthy, obviously, Augusta is just a really smart lady who is forced to conform to society. Her mind is the thing that makes her truly extraordinary, and she’s not allowed to share that with her suitors anyway. This wouldn’t have bothered me if it was something that happened to all of the Worthington heroines in Augusta’s position- but Louisa and Charlotte did not receive dozens of proposals, and they were both rich and gorgeous too. Augusta’s irresistible apathy causes men to trip over themselves constantly, and it’s such a bore.

The main sin of the book is one that many reviewers have identified, which is obviously that nothing would prevent a rich, well-born woman from getting an education after being married. The mutual pining would be interesting if there were any actual obstacles before the couple, but there aren’t. I was completely disappointed by this book, and I’m not sure I could bring myself to pick up another if this is the direction they’re going in.

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“Twice Shy” by Sarah Hogle

Twice Shy is the highly-anticipated sophomore novel from Sarah Hogle, who broke through with the critically acclaimed You Deserve Each Other last year. While many authors get mixed reviews on their second books, if anything, Twice Shy is receiving a better reception than its predecessor. I agree with public opinion, if anything, I like Twice Shy even more and found it to be a pleasure to read.

Maybell is pretty much stuck in her life, she has only recently been promoted at her hospitality job, but has not been allowed to do anything with her new responsibilities. She has a work frenemy she can barely tolerate, so when news of a surprising inheritance comes her way, Maybell wastes no time getting out of dodge.

Maybell’s beloved but distant Great-Aunt Violet has willed her crumbling mansion to our heroine, but there’s a catch: Maybell has to share the lot with grumpy, gorgeous groundskeeper Wesley. Not only is she required to share the decrepit, broke estate with a stranger, this stranger has a different vision than Maybell for the property.

As the two begin to clean out the huge house, Maybell and Wesley go from uncomfortable friction to a different kind of awareness, one that could mean trouble. Maybell has strong boundaries for a reason: her bad track record with men and difficult upbringing make her cautious of any handsome guy who happens to cross her path, or in this case, be thrown into it. It doesn’t help that Maybell has a history with Wesley, one he doesn’t even know about.

I adored this book, it works on a lot of levels. I love Hogle’s penchant for working-class heroines and emotional heroes. I think we also see a lot of Maybell’s trauma without being hit over the head with it, and I think Wesley’s mental health struggles are dealt with in a really amazing way. My only critique of that would have been having a “he got therapy and maybe medication” epilogue, because I don’t think we see enough of that. Contrary to popular belief, loving and trusting someone does not fix anxiety disorders! I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the representation and I did really love Wesley and empathize with him, so that’s just a small issue for me.

I would definitely recommend Twice Shy to any fan of You Deserve Each Other, it’s really different but the emotional resonance, complex characters and strong writing cary over. I can’t wait to see what Hogle does next!

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“Sun of a Beach” by Mia Sosa

Sun of a Beach is an Audible Original from novelist Mia Sosa, which will definitely fulfill any vacation-related cravings you might have. The novella is about two coworkers, Naomi and Donovan, at a men’s magazine. They are at odds, but forced to work on a shoot together on a beautiful island in the Atlantic. Naomi is frustrated by Donovan’s hands-off managerial style and carefree attitude, while Donovan resents Naomi’s control-freak tendencies and inability to relax. Naomi goes along to babysit Donovan at the behest of her boss, with the promise that she might get to do some editorial work if it goes well. Donovan, frustrated by their boss’ over-managing, throws a wrench into the works that makes Naomi furious. To keep their jobs and please their boss, they must actually collaborate for the first time, and might uncover some hidden passions along the way.

I love the narrators, both are AMAZING. Valentina Ortiz in particular is a real standout. I thought both of the main characters’ voices were distinct and well written. For a short novel, they are well-developed characters and the sexual tension is palpable on the page. The dialogue is also stellar, which made it a pleasure to listen to. I definitely enjoyed it, it’s a really good escape for those of us who haven’t gotten to take a vacation in a long while. The description of the lovely, lush beach environment is tantalizing and adds to the overall decadent feeling.

While the characters were very well developed for such a short novella, I did think there was some room for more from both Naomi and Donovan. Due to space limitations, they end up going from barely friends to prepared for a long-term relationship in the space of a few minutes. I would have preferred them to develop a comfortable working relationship and then break down some barriers, but as it was, despite the groundwork, it felt rushed. There were definitely places where I thought secondary characters could have been pared down a bit to give the main couple more time.

As to the suspension of disbelief, I was a mostly on-board, but some of it did set of my spider-sense. Donovan’s little act of rebellion was intended to throw off the shoot his boss strong-armed him into, but I really don’t know what his plan was. He didn’t seem to have one, and I find it hard to believe that he made a big decision and then threw caution into the wind completely. I get that his character is intended to be kind of careless, but this seems like a career-ender and I don’t think he’d self-sabotage that much.

I did really enjoy listening to Sun of a Beach and I would recommend it to any reader looking for a little levity and second-hand sun.

This reviewer was given free access to this Audible Original in exchange for an honest review.

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“Murder on Cold Street” by Sherry Thomas

Normally, at this point in a series (Murder on Cold Street is the fifth in the Lady Sherlock series) I start to lose interest or forget all of the events of the previous books. The dynamics between characters can become stale, or fail to evolve, and the excitement wanes. However, not so with this novel, an adventure that takes the intrepid Charlotte Holmes to a new part of London, where mysterious murders in the form of a locked-door mystery present themselves.

The end of the last book, The Art of Theft, left readers on a cliff-hanger. Inspector Treadles, an ally to the Holmes gang and a friend of Lord Ingram, has been accused of murder. His wife, Alice, is convinced of his innocence, and engages Holmes and her associates to discover the truth of the matter. It is fortunate that Charlotte is on the case, as the evidence is pretty damning: Treadles was found in a locked room, with two dead men, holding a gun and covered in blood. It actually gets worse: the two dead men are associated with Alice, one is her late father’s business partner, and the other works for her at her company, Cousins Manufacturing. Matters look pretty bleak, to put it frankly. Despite that, the gang begins their task, endeavoring to uncover the truth and save the inspector from the hangman’s noose by Christmas.

I am already a big fan of the series, but I was incredibly impressed by this latest book. It advances the relationships between a number of characters, although most satisfyingly that of Charlotte and Lord Ingram. Thomas always has incredibly strong secondary characters, and I hope some of the ones who appear in Cold Street will return. The mystery itself is intricate, interwoven with details from previous books, which lends the story a curated quality that I really enjoyed. I love the little chosen family Charlotte has made for herself, and I am interested to see the developments the next book will bring. This series is easy to love, and I am content and pleased to see the books only improving with time.

The Art of Theft, by Sherry Thomas can be purchases wherever books are sold, or borrowed from your local library.

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“Act Your Age, Eve Brown” by Talia Hibbert

Act Your Age, Eve Brown is the last of Talia Hibbert’s Brown Sisters trilogy, and just overall a goddamned delight.

Eve is considered by most to be a disaster. At twenty-six, she has yet to chose a path, flitting from job to job with the speed of an intrepid log-jumper. Eve knows she keeps failing, and the latest disaster brings the wrath of her disappointed parents down on her. They demand that Eve get her act together, hold down a job and find some purpose. Until then, they will revoke their financial support, leaving Eve without an income, or a home.

Eve stumbles into a temporary gig at a bed and breakfast, where she not only makes an enemy of the proprietor, but almost immediately injures him.

Said proprietor is Jacob Wayne, a perfectly put together guy who does not need a force of chaos like Eve in his B&B. From the moment she shows up without a resume, Jacob knows Eve will not be frying the bacon at his establishment, but he has little choice, given the lack of other acceptable applicants. Then, Eve hits him with her car, and they’re stuck with each other. Jacob can’t run the B&B by himself with a broken arm, and Eve is wracked with guilt. Now, all they have to do is stay civil, though both of them can’t help but being distracted by each other.

This is just such an addictive read. I was forced by necessity to read it in two days, but otherwise I might have consumed it in one sitting! Eve is just adorable and wonderful, so charismatic and sweet. Jacob is grumpy and vulnerable, and their interactions are just a pleasure to read. Speaking of pleasure, this book is hot. Like, incredibly sexy. Turn up the AC, you’re gonna need it. It’s just what I needed, sexy, sweet, funny, and I am hyped for the new series to follow, set in the same town to follow Mont and his sisters, who are featured secondary characters and have some of the best lines in the book. The book also has some stellar ASD rep, I think writers like Hibbert and Helen Hoang are really doing the hard work to normalize neurodivergence in romance. To borrow a phrase from Mont, I want to take it home and hide it away from the world and marry it. Five stars.

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“Would Like to Meet” by Rachel Winters

Would Like to Meet has a quirky premise- our heroine, a stressed-out agent’s assistant, has to wrangle a manuscript from an intransigent screenwriter by proving that true love does happen like in the movies. I really liked the idea, and went into reading totally prepared to love it, but unfortunately it was pretty underwhelming.

Evie, our protagonist, is charming and likable, but a human disaster, because she puts her whole life into her job and doesn’t maintain a personal life. She also has a lot of unresolved issues related to her desire to be a writer, and her father’s death. Evie is almost a laughably bad friend, as she is entirely consumed with getting a promotion and being an agent. This book is kind of her coming-of-age-story, and not the romance I was expecting. The main strength of the book was good writing and great characterization, all of the people in the story are well-defined and their motivations are easy to discern. Unfortunately, the characters weren’t really given too many good moments because of the main problem with the story: bad pacing, and an overwrought plot.

The story really suffers from being so compressed, there’s too much happening without letting the reader breathe. Evie is essentially buffeted along by the plot and does whatever she has to do to make the story move forward. Character relationships and the love story are sacrificed for red herrings, and to give the antagonist more time on the page. The “twist” is pretty much obvious from the beginning of the book, and the ending is happy, but underwhelming. I was also partially disappointed that this wasn’t the enemies-to-lovers romance I was expecting, with Evie and the screenwriter coming to understand one another. I would say that the weakest point in the book was the love story, so you shouldn’t go into this book expecting romance. As a novel, it is enjoyable, though a bit scattered. I will say that I did read it in a matter of hours because I wanted to know the end, so at least it keeps one’s attention.