Payback- Christina Phillips

Payback

After reading the first book in the Viking Bastards MC series, “Hooked”, I knew I would be coming back for more. This second installment did not disappoint, but it did surprise me.

The Story-
Amelia comes from a family that was involved with a rival MC of the Viking Bastards. There was enough bad blood that she wants revenge, and the only way to do it is to go undercover as a bartender at Odin’s. She doesn’t expect her mark, Gage, to be anything like the sexy, protective guy she immediately has the feels for.

My Thoughts-
This second book is definitely darker than the first one, but has all the heat and pace that this author is so good at. Toward the end, it raised my eyebrows and had me wondering about how far she was willing to go to raise the conflict stakes in the story. I’m still not sure if she crossed that line or not, but I will say that it made me think… which fun Viking MC romance/eroticas don’t tend to make me do. The characters are well-rounded
(with a great alpha hero) with intricate motivations, and the book reads incredibly fast. I only sort of hope that the next book in this series leans back in the “fun romp with a bad boy” direction.

The Bottom Line-
If you like alpha males and MCs, this is probably your thing. If you want a quick, hot read with some emotional depth and a dose of darkness, this is right up your alley. If you want fun, hot sexytimes without the angst, I suggest the first book in this series. All that being said, I will be back for the next Viking Bastard! 3 3/4 stars

Buy it Now: Amazon

Never Trust a Pirate- Valerie Bowman

519pmXy3UgL

I love a good pirate book, so I was pretty thrilled to get my hands on this new one by Valerie Bowman. It is the 7th book in her “Playful Brides” series, but it works completely as a stand-alone. Twists, undercover identities and pirate sexy times? Yes, please!

The Story-
I don’t want to give too much away because this one is so much fun to read and discover as you go, so I’ll keep this fairly brief. Danielle is a new lady’s maid, and the brother of the master of house is the “black sheep” rake of the family. He starts a flirtation with her and gets way more than he expected… That being said, there is SO MUCH MORE going on, and I think you will enjoy the game, the ups and downs, and the surprises as much as I did.

My Thoughts-
The plot drives this book which makes it a fast and fun read. The characters are interesting and have hidden depths, but this sure isn’t angsty. Reading this book is like watching an action/romance movie that you can’t look away from and can’t quit smiling about when it is all over. The pirate mention in the title is a tad bit of a misnomer because there is way more going on here than pirates, so if you don’t happen to be a fan of pirate stories, but like a great, fast plot, you should try this anyway, If you do like pirates, there is enough in there to satisfy.

The Bottom Line-
I literally put the book down and laughed out loud at one point, saying “oh my goodness, I am so glad that happened and can’t wait to see what happens next!” Imagine the odd stares I got from my high school students… Anyway, if you like your romance with a heavy dose of fun, great pacing, and twisty plots, this is so for you. 5 stars!

Buy it Now: Amazon

The Bad Luck Bride- Janna MacGregor

badluckbride

The Bad Luck Bride is the debut book of author Janna MacGregor, but you certainly wouldn’t know it by reading it. As a fan of historicals (and beautiful covers), I was super excited to dive into this one. What surprised me most was the combination of emotional depth and gorgeous prose coming from Ms. MacGregor. This is not a light, fluffy story about some bride who keeps having trivial “bad luck”.

The Story-
Alexander has vowed revenge on his supposed friend who ruined the life of his sister, and part of that revenge includes taking his fiancee. Since he has the financial means to do so, and she happens to be somewhat desperate, this task isn’t a particularly hard feat to manage. But actually connecting with his new bride and building a life with her? That’s another matter entirely. Especially since the marriage was built on deception.
Claire believes she is cursed. Her previous fiances have all died or broken engagements. When Lord Hallworth saves her from yet another broken engagement embarrassment, she begins to hope that her luck has changed. But old demons don’t die, and marriage alone cannot save her.

My Thoughts-
From the very first page, I was struck at the vocabulary and gorgeous figurative language that the author uses. Disclaimer: yes, I am a high school AP English teacher. It reminded me of reading something closer to Jane Austen than many modern historical romances. Don’t get me wrong: it isn’t too difficult or flowery for the modern reader, but I appreciated that Ms. MacGregor respected the readers’ intelligence enough to put more thought into word choice and imagery. Okay, I’ll quit my English “critique” and move on to what most of you really care about: the characters and the story.
I felt for both of these characters: they both had such tough things to work through. I like that the author dealt with these issues realistically and didn’t just “heal” them with sex. Just like real life, real things take time and hard work to process.
The story was fast-paced in the beginning and slowed a bit in the middle, but by the end, I was racing again to see what would happen. I have to say: I was surprised by the outcome. Rather than relying on an obvious trope, the author changes course in the final chapters. There are some questions left unanswered which will lead into book 2 (which I cannot wait for), but I found the ending satisfying and more realistic than I expected.
I guess that is one of the more interesting things Ms. MacGregor brings to this book: people act more like real, flawed people than is normal in these types of books. Situations are more realistic. This is no fairy-tale, and I am not disappointed by that. After all, dashing Willoughby leaves Marianne, and Anna and Wentworth screwed up their lives for years, waiting to be together. Sometimes happy endings are hard to come by because we make it hard on ourselves.

The Bottom Line-
Janna MacGregor is poised to be included in the top echelon of historical romance authors. This is an outstanding debut novel, and fans of historical romance should definitely check this out. I cannot wait to see what else she has in store. 4 1/2 stars

Buy it Now: Amazon

The Duke’s Unexpected Bride- Lara Temple

51EylwG5IIL._SY346_

I am having some trouble putting my thoughts together about this book. I’ve never read Lara Temple before, but I love historical and Regency romance, so I couldn’t say no to this one. On one hand, this was cute and hilarious, on another, it was pretty dark and disturbing. Actually, that is a pretty good description of the two mains…. Let me try to break it down for you.

The Story-
Sophie is a country-girl, staying with her wealthy aunt (? can’t remember…a wealthy old lady that never shows up in the plot), and she has out-lasted other members of the family who came to stay due to her willingness to take care of the aunt’s dog, Marmaduke. The pug is hilarious and is really another character in the story. Duke something-or-other, Max, runs into her on a walk with the dog and is captured by her enthusiasm and spirit. (Although he won’t admit it for most of the book.) Max is dealing with some dark things that happened in his past, but is seemingly continually drawn to Sophie which leads to an engagement of convenience sort of thing.

My Thoughts-
The first half of the book is an enjoyable piece of fun and is a unique take on a Regency romance. The second half feels more like a book you’ve read, albeit with some twists and surprises, but it misses some of the joy in the beginning. The characters, especially Sophie, are masterfully developed, and the secondary characters make me want to look through this author’s backlist to see if their stories have been told. I guess the somewhat dark turn of the plot threw me a bit considering I had been laughing at the highjinks of a pug getting his portrait painted in an earlier chapter.

The Bottom Line-
If you like dogs or humor in your historical romance, this is a no-brainer. If you like historical Regency romance, this is much better than many that are out there. The characters are well-written, and the story clicks right along. I will be reading more by this author and am going to check out her backlist now. 4 stars

Hard-Hearted Highlander: Julia London

31159191

I love highlander books, so I was pretty excited to get ahold of this one. It sounded totally up my alley, but an unlikable hero and odd subplot made this feel disjointed and somewhat unsatisfying for me.

The Story-
Rabbie has to marry an English girl to save his family land etc. His ex/true love died at the hands of the English following Culloden, so suffice to say, he isn’t happy about the arrangement. His bride-to-be is an unlikable little ninny who still has a governess of sorts: Bernadette. Bernadette is, of course, sassy and worldly, which is more interesting to Rabbie than the ninny. Both have tragic backstories and lots of built-up sexual tension.

My Thoughts-
Rabbie broods and sulks through most of the novel even though the heroine, Bernadette, went through something way worse and seems well-adjusted considering. He never really turns a corner and does anything particularly likable; they just start having sex. At one point, I thought that the ninny was going to have a HEA and maybe be alright because the author did some scenes from her perspective, but no. She’s just an idiot that gets embarrassed by a creep. Then, there is all this weird backstory written in italics that actually made me wish Rabbie’s first love hadn’t kicked it. I know Bernadette would have been better off if her jerk father hadn’t screwed up her live and love. Oh, and don’t get me started on the whole “here’s a couple of kids!” thing. I won’t go into detail, but he pulls a very man move out of the blue that left me like “huh?”.

The Bottom Line-
So, why the 3 stars if there were so many things that annoyed me? The plot clicked along pretty well, and although I am not super happy how she ended up with Rabbie, Bernadette is a pretty kicking heroine. I enjoyed their banter and was truly intrigued to see how they would get together because it really wasn’t seeming likely. The writing is solid, and I have a feeling that I would enjoy something else by this author. She writes in my fave subgenre, and clearly has talent; this just went in too many directions and didn’t redeem the hero enough for my taste. 3 stars

Drakon’s Prey- N.J. Walters

9781633759336

Second books in paranormal series can be difficult. The first book often has all of this interesting world-building and the introduction of the “big bad” to make it exciting. That was certainly the case with this series. I loved the first book, and I feel that it is absolutely necessary to enjoying this one at all. I’ll explain:

The Story-
Picking up where we left off in book 1, Valeriya, the sister of the big bad, has pocketed a secret address to the hideaway of a drakon (dragon-shifter). She heads there, of course being tracked by sis’s men, then gets kidnapped/stowed away by Tarrant, a drakon we met in the first book. He keeps her. They have insta-sex. Bad guys try to find her.

My Thoughts-
If I didn’t love this author’s characters and world so much, this one would have been difficult to get through. But, I do want to know what happens to the drakons and how they will eventually defeat the bad guys. My biggest issue was that the plot didn’t feel like it moved forward overall. It felt more like a chess move: Valeriya to the drakon’s side of the board. The sex was hot, and Tarrant is a true Alpha-male that keeps it interesting. But, nothing happens! It’s like a snowed-in trope without the witty banter and self-revealing that usually comes before the sex and love.

The Bottom Line:
I will read the third book in this series and hope that the action picks back up. If you read the first book, this is a natural progression, and you will probably enjoy it enough to give it a read to continue the series. If you want to read a “stuck-together so they have sex and fall in love” book with heat, this one will also fit that bill. 3 stars

Wild and Sweet- Rhenna Morgan

Wild and Sweet is the second book in my new favorite contemporary series by Rhenna Morgan. Seriously, if you haven’t met the Haven Brotherhood yet by reading about Jace in “Rough and Tumble”, you absolutely should do that now. And guess what? Zeke is just as appealing as Jace, just in an entirely different way. 
The Story

Zeke is a trauma doc and is one of the amazing men who make up the Haven Brotherhood. When the sister of one of his close friends has a dangerous run-in, Zeke comes to the rescue and is knocked off his feet. Gabe is a mechanic and has never been great with people. When Zeke begins to show interest in her, Gabe has trouble believing that it’s real. 
My Thoughts

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this series. It’s like Morgan has taken a different male fantasy for each book and drops them one by one for us like candy on a trail that I never want to end. Zeke, the hot doc with a heart of gold, is not as obvious and brazen as Jace from the previous book, but he sneaks up on you and by the end of the book, I couldn’t pick between the two. His care and process in making Gabe feel safe and loved would make any woman jealous. Gabe is also an interesting character in her own right, and it is refreshing that Morgan has no inhibitions about her characters having flaws like normal people. It makes it that much more satisfying when those normal people find exceptional love. 
The Bottom Line-

This is an excellent addition to this series, and I will be buying every book in this series. If you like your contemporary with amazing alpha males and just enough edge to have an excellent plot without overdosing on the danger drama, these books are so for you! 5 stars
This eARC was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

My One True Highlander

“My One True Highlander” by Suzanne Enoch is perfect catnip for lovers of the Scottish highlander subgenre of romance. I’ll admit it: I’m addicted to this genre.  There’s something inherently romantic to me about the Highlands and a kilt, a brogue and a tall Highlander. If you are like me, and enjoy these things along with a great, funny plot and a sassy heroine, you will totally enjoy this book as much as I did.

The Story- 

Marjorie was trained to be a lady’s maid or a governess, but when her brother is made a Duke due to distant family connections, she hopes to take her place among London society.  Unfortunately, society sees her as an impudent upstart and refuses to accept her.  Her brother’s recent marriage to a Scottish woman prompts her to travel to the Highlands for a visit and a respite from the cold, unfeeling people that are rejecting her. Graeme is a chieftan, unsure of how to placate the leader of his clan who wants to unseat the new English Duke in their region.  When his presumptuous younger brothers kidnap the Duke’s sister in an ill-conceived plan to win favor, he is in a bit of a bind.  But the Duke’s sister is not the fine, uppity lady he expected, and her situation becomes more complicated each day.

My Thoughts-

I’m having trouble deciding whether I enjoyed the plot or characters more for this one.  Graeme’s brothers and his relationship with them is refreshingly different from most secondary character plot devices used in romance.  They truly serve a purpose in the plot and provide depth to the story.  Marjorie is a great heroine, and I absolutely loved her backstory of not fitting in. It made her finding her place in the Highlands that much more satisfying. It also brought some humor to the situation as Graeme keeps being surprised by her. 

The Bottom Line-

This book is thoroughly enjoyable, but will especially please those readers like me who love to be transported to Scotland. It avoids common pitfalls and provides a fresh plot while satisfying with beloved tropes. I cannot wait to go back and read the first book in this series and look forward to those to come. 5 stars

I Dared the Duke- Anna Bennett

idared

“I Dared the Duke” is the second book in Anna Bennett’s Wayward Wallflowers novels, but you certainly don’t need to read the first one in order to enjoy this one. This was my first read from Bennett, and it turned out to be just the historical catnip I needed.

The Story-

Beth is the new companion to the grandmother of the Duke of Blackshire.  She is happy to be needed and cares greatly for the older woman. When the Duke intimates his plan to move his grandmother to the country, Beth proposes a deal requiring the Duke to grant three wishes for the woman in exchange for convincing her to make the move. Alexander has had multiple attempts on his life, and now only his grandmother’s new companion stands in the way of moving her to the country so that he can investigate the potential murderer with no danger to his family.

My Thoughts-

Initially, I thought Beth was going to be a boring character, but over and over, she stands up for herself and her companion. She has a wit that is not immediately obvious, and it soon becomes clear that Alexander needs her more than she needs him. I thought the plot clicked right along with never a clear lull, and the conclusion was completely satisfying. The characters are well-developed, including some secondary characters like the Duke’s best friend and grandmother.

The Bottom Line-

If you enjoy historical romance, you should not miss this one. It is a perfect little confection of happiness with a compelling plot and great characters. I’m definitely going back to read the first in this series! 4 1/2 stars

The Black Lily- Juliette Cross

My two favorite genres are historical and paranormal.  Imagine my delight when one of my favorite authors, Juliette Cross, decided to write a series of fairytale retellings with vampires.  The first book in the series, “The Black Lily” is Arabelle’s (Cinderella) story and beautifully sets the stage for the books to come. You see, this isn’t a normal YA-style fairytale retelling… this one is full of the dark edge I’ve come to expect from Juliette (side note: You must read her Vessel Trilogy if you haven’t).

The Story-

Arabelle is going to the ball, which is actually a chance for the Prince to select his new blood concubine.  But, she doesn’t isn’t there to win Prince Marius’s heart: she wants to pierce it with a gold dagger.  Arabelle, aka The Black Lily, is the leader of a resistance organization of the same name.  She is a badass woman, entirely in control of her own sexuality and agenda.  Marius goes through the motions, but is beginning to sense that something is not right in his kingdom.  An attempt on his life sets him on a path he never expected to find a woman he never should have wanted.

My Thoughts-

World-building has always been a strength of Cross, and this is no exception.  I completely understood the vampire monarchy and the “rules” within this society almost immediately.  While these vampires are legally limited from killing humans, these are no sparkling, animal-eating creatures.  There is true danger here, and Arabelle’s strength and intelligence in fighting that threat drive the book as well as the undeniable chemistry between her and Marius.  Can we talk about that chemistry for a minute?  From almost the first meeting, there is this spark that is completely believable between the two, and I was actually surprised by the outcome of that meeting.  Throw in a late-night lake bath that gets interrupted and a surprise visit to her cottage, and you have some very hot moments. But, even more than the sexual tension, what comes across through the snappy dialogue is that these characters really “get” each other.  Even with the fast-paced plot, the secondary characters are true people that we get to know and root for and cry for.  I can’t wait to see some of them again! Finally, the twists and reveals are wonderful. I love when everything is not as it seems.

The Bottom Line-

This is an excellent introduction to a series that I cannot wait to devour.  These vampires feel fresh, and the fairytale premise is less of a restrictive plot device than it is a creative frame in which the author flourishes.  If you love the dark edge of paranormal AND the transporting world of historical, this book is a must-read.  5 stars

Amazon: The Black Lily