Thanks to the publisher & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
#SundayShelfie + Review
I recently reorganized my bookshelves, getting rid of some books I was N E V E R going to read, consolidating my two TBR shelves into one overflowing one, & making a lot more room for books I’ve loved in the rest of the bookcase.
So here she is: a reorganized bookcase with some different books at the front!
& now here’s that aforementioned review ;).
If you’re searching for thick fantasy books with romantic elements you M U S T look at the Last Binding series by Freya Marske. Book 1, This Marvellous Light, was one of my top reads of last year. A Restless Truth is a sensational follow-up & my guesses & expectations about the couple for book 3 are S K Y high.
In this book, Robin’s sister Maud Blythe is accompanying a woman holding part of the Last Contract back to England. Said woman hasn’t revealed what item in her belongings is actually the Last Contract, which is a problem when she’s murdered & someone ransacks their room.
In order to find that item, & yeah, prevent a lot of bad things from happening to Britain’s magic-possessors & probably just the world in general, Maud ropes others into helping her, including the stunning Violet Debenham.
There is intrigue galore in this book & lots of twists & turns. As Maud & Violet work together they indulge in their attraction, even as Violet struggles to really let someone in.
Not only are the world-building & the plot strong, the emotional acumen shown here is really lovely. Marske has a deftness with emotions that left me hoping these leads could go to the relationship distance.
Book 3 will likely focus on a different couple & I have my hopes for it will be. In the meantime, I highly recommend checking out these two interconnected queer fantasies, beginning with A Marvellous Light. They’re very very good!
5⭐️. Out 11/01.
CWs: one of the secondary characters that we’re presumably kinda sorta supposed to be rooting for calls another “Mediterranean gutter rat.” Violence, including murder.
Thanks to the publisher & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own
Is it possible to fall in love with someone in one magical day, Alison Cochrun’s Kiss Her Once For Me poses. I don’t know about IRL but this book made me feel it, you all.
From the beauty of the writing, to the romantic story that swept me off my feet, to the humor of this magical family & couple together, & just overall the evocativeness of the settings & the emotions. Bam. Total heart engagement.
Last Christmas Eve artist & animator Ellie gave aspiring bakery owner Jack her heart after meeting on a day of random snow when most of the city was shut down. The very next day Jack gave it away.
One year later Ellie has the chance to ask Jack about it all when she inadvertently poses as Jack’s brother’s fiancée at a family Christmas get together.
So Ellie is fake engaged to Jack’s brother & the stakes for all of them are big. Especially since she feels like she can’t tell Jack that the engagement is fake.
There’s demisexual rep, anxiety rep, a big whopping second chance, some deception & a grovel, & a lovely lovely story about two people finding their person.
There’s only one thing/s that bothered me *dun dun dun*. That would be the conflict. I felt like one of the leads was a bit hypocritical—or maybe just not as understanding I thought they could be—but I was the only person who thought this . All of the characters are firmly on the side of one person so YMMV .
But three cheers for beautiful romances that make me feel the love & the wonder of love & snow days.
4.5⭐️. Out 11/01.
CWs: emotionally manipulative mom; absent dads & in one case, infidelity. Jack is married when they first hook up & she doesn’t tell Ellie this.
Hi and welcome to my Blog Blitz stop for Laura Griffin's Vanishing Hour!
When a cold case in Texas leads to a sinister string of disappearances, a newcomer to the small town helps the deputy sheriff piece together the clues in this new romantic thriller from New York Times bestselling author Laura Griffin.
Corporate lawyer Ava Burch has had enough of the big city and the daily grind. She grew up with her father, who raised search-and-rescue dogs, in rural Texas and has moved to the small town of Cuervo to spend time in the dry, rugged wilderness near Big Bend National Park. When she and her dog, Huck, discover an abandoned campsite on a volunteer search-and-rescue mission, she’s perplexed, but she carefully photographs it all the same.
All Deputy Sheriff Grant Wycoff can see when he looks at Ava is a city slicker—with her designer jeans and expensive car—who has no business on a serious team made up of seasoned outdoorsmen and retired cops. But when she tells him of her discovery on the trail, he sees there’s more to her than meets the eye.
Ava’s discovery reminds Grant of the unsolved case of a young woman who went missing two years ago. As they look into the campsite further, another woman disappears under odd circumstances. With time running out, Ava and Grant must work against the brutal heat from both the Texas sun and their own electric chemistry to solve the case.
Set in the big wide open of Texas Laura Griffin’s Vanishing Hour has a sinister mystery and a satisfying romance arc with leads who are devoted to making a difference.
Ava Burch—an attorney who volunteers with search & rescue—& Detective Grant Wycoff are drawn to the same missing woman case. They discover it’s even bigger than they think, even as Grant resents Ava’s continued research into what may have happened to the women who have either mysteriously died or disappeared in their county.
Mystery-wise this one falls a little short for me. I rooted for Ava for taking on an investigation stubbornly & producing results but I didn’t feel like the detective lead was really rocking this investigation…& the mystery reveal feels a little lackluster to me for reasons I’m not going into because of spoilers.
Still, there’s a lot of tension in this one & I was really anticipating the Big Villain Reveal.
A Laura Griffin book is a good book & this one has a lot of the stuff I love in this genre including a stubborn heroine & a developing relationship with lots of push & pull from the leads with that lovely ending I’m always greedy for: a HEA. In particular Griffin captures how Ava has to re-evaluate her own past & prejudices when it comes to Grant’s demanding job & that’s done nicely.
I’m really looking forward to the next Laura Griffin book (because I always look forward to those) ;) .
4⭐️. Out now!
Please check out a trusted review for CWs.
Missing children are an emergency. Always. Their little bodies are less able to regulate temperature, so they're especially vulnerable to exposure. And in a place as vast and rugged as Silver Canyon State Park, additional hazards abounded: rattlesnakes, coyotes, hundred-foot cliffs. Even the anemic little creek that Ava had been following was terrifying. A child Noah's size could drown in a bathtub.
Ava glanced up at the relentless sun that sucked moisture out of everything beneath it. She looked ahead at Huck, who trotted back and forth in front of her in his zigzag pattern. He was working the wind, as he'd been trained, tirelessly sniffing the air with his powerful nose, which could pick up anything with human scent on it, from a candy wrapper to a dropped article of clothing.
So far, nothing.
Ava checked her watch. Two long hours since she'd left the trailhead. Sweat stung her eyes, and she wiped her forehead with the back of her arm. She paused beside a boulder and dropped her pack on the dusty ground to retrieve one of her water bottles. Huck needed some, too, but right now he was intent on his work.
She took a lukewarm sip and scanned the scrub brush lining the canyon wall. Young children had a tendency to wander aimlessly until they found a place to curl up for a nap. Some would even hide from search teams, afraid of getting in trouble for being lost. So Ava had been incessantly scanning pockets of brush.
Huck halted in front of her, his nose lifted in the air. Ava froze and watched. But then his head dropped down and he resumed his zigzags. Ava tucked the water bottle away and pushed off the boulder to continue her trek.
She watched Huck, amazed by his energy. Even in this heat, he loved working, and when he had his vest on, he didn't have an off switch. As he bounded around in front of her, she thought of the other teams, especially the canine one. She was surprised they hadn't found something close to camp.
Of course, the parents had been there, which might have been a problem. Frantic parents threw off a lot of scent, which could have overpowered Noah's smell and possibly confused the dog. Also, the temperature rising in the canyon could have wafted the scent up, well above the dog's nose. Yet another challenge here was that young children didn't throw off as much scent as adults. And still bodies-ones that were either asleep or unconscious-threw off less scent, too.
So there were all kinds of factors in play, especially in a park this size.
Ava checked her watch again and sped up her pace, unable to shake the feeling of dread that had been settling in her stomach as the hours ticked by. Scanning the canyon wall, her gaze caught on something beige and triangular.
A tent? No.
A tarp. She climbed onto a boulder for a closer look. About halfway up the slope of the canyon was a sand-colored canvas tarp that had been stretched taut to create a patch of shade. It looked like a primitive fort-just the sort of thing that would attract a kid's attention, and her pulse quickened as she climbed closer. Nearing the tarp, she spied a small yellow tent tucked in the shade beneath it.
She glanced around for Huck, but he was sniffing along at the base of a rockslide.
Grabbing hold of a juniper tree, Ava levered herself onto the ledge. She ducked under the tarp and paused a moment for her eyes to adjust. The little tent was unzipped. Hope ballooned in her chest as she pulled back the flap and poked her head inside.
Her hope disappeared as she scanned the interior. No sleeping child curled up in the dimness. The air was utterly still, and everything was coated with a thin layer of dust, as though no one had been there in weeks, maybe months. A pile of gear in the corner included a cookstove, a hiking boot, and a blue bedroll with a carabiner clipped to it. Attached to the carabiner was a black key fob.
A chill snaked down her spine. Who would leave their car key out here? The fob seemed odd. Ditto for the hiking boot. Where was the other one? And where was its owner?
On impulse, Ava took out her phone and snapped a couple of pictures. As part of her SAR training, she'd learned to document crime scenes. She couldn't pinpoint why, exactly, but that was what this felt like. She ducked out and snapped a shot of the exterior. A faint bark pulled her attention back to the mission. She couldn't afford to get sidetracked, even though this place felt creepy. She put her phone away as she skimmed the surrounding area for the missing boot, or any sign of the boot's owner. She glanced up the canyon, looking for evidence of a fire pit or any other camping equipment.
A soft whimper had her turning around.
Huck sat beside a rock pile, his ears pricked forward and his gaze fixed on hers. Ava's heart skittered. This was his sit alert letting her know he'd found something.
"Show me," she commanded, and he sprang into action, bounding across the creek bed. She climbed down the rocks and jogged after him, frantically searching the clumps of trees. Huck darted around a giant prickly pear cactus and behind a line of mesquite trees. Amid the fluttering green leaves, she caught a flash of red.
"Please, please, please," she murmured.
Huck disappeared beneath the brush and barked. Ava spied a small white sneaker and a pudgy leg.
Huck danced in a circle, drunk on success and eager for his reward.
"Good boy, Huck! Good boy! Good boy!" She filled her voice with praise, even though her heart had lodged in her throat. The little body wasn't moving. Oh God.
About the Author.
Laura Griffin is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than twenty-five books and novellas. She is a two-time RITA Award winner, as well as the recipient of the Daphne du Maurier Award.
Thanks to the publisher for the complimentary hardcopy ARC and the publisher & Netgalley for the complimentary e-ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
#OneWordThreeTitles challenge + review
I saw this challenge on @bookbruin’s gorgeous feed recently & thought it would be a good chance to use “stars/star” and feature a recent thick sci fi read: Emery Robin’s THE STARS UNDYING.
#multitasking ;) .
The blurb calls this “a sweeping, spectacular space opera inspired by the lives & loves of Cleopatra & Julius Caesar” & I feel like that’s most of what you need to know .
At the beginning of the book Gracia is trying to take control of her planet & wrest the title of Oracle from her sister. She uses a visiting Commander of the Empire to help her do it.
But let’s not forget the Commander’s lieutenant, religious tensions in the Empire, & questions of sovereignty, all of which add more drama to the provocative & compelling story.
As previously mentioned this book is thick & I loved that for us all. The storytelling is great & the author tells a story that both had me thinking & absorbed in the plot twists, particularly the big revelation & the secrets of our unreliable narrator. The engagement between sisters always had me on the edge of my seat.
But I will admit to occasionally being confused. The book kind of jumps in & then there are moments when the other characters allude to something without spelling it out. I guess that really helps ramp up the mystery of it all but I wanted to find my footing a bit more .
THE STARS UNDYING is a dense, often magnetic read but there are moments when I plodded through a bit. Still, a great read that I don’t think I’ll forget.
4.5⭐️. Out 11/08.
[ID: three books & a red prayer plant are arranged on a table. At the top left is The Brightest Star in Paris, top right is the plant, bottom left is The Stars Undying, & bottom right is Written in the Stars.]
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
With Alexis Hall’s Paris Daillencourt’s About to Crumble we’re back with the mayhem and fun of Bake Expectations, this time with aforementioned Paris, a very anxious, gorgeous, & talented person who was signed up for the show by his roommate.
Popping with moments of humor, like the opening absurd & very naked scene & basically every moment with show host, Grace Forsyth, this book can be a lot of fun.
But much of the book is heavy as well, with Paris often being very self-critical & often self-loathing, unable to see any potential in himself or a rationale for why someone might want to spend time with him.
While part of me appreciates this very thorough consideration of generalized anxiety disorder, as other reviewers have noted it isn’t always easy to read. Partially because of this it’s a big relief when Paris eventually does seek outside help, & then there’s a real hopefulness to the story I enjoyed.
I wouldn’t really call this a romance & I think the pub has been open about that. But there is the potential for a possibly long-term, honest romantic relationship there—even if it feels bogged down for much of the book with all of the “talks” Paris & Tariq have to have.
I liked this one but it didn’t make my heart go pitter patter.
3.5 ⭐️. Out 11/01.
Please consult a trusted reviewer's list of CWs.
Thanks to Harlequin Publicity Team for the complimentary finished copy and the publisher and Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
I’ve been so excited to read On the Hustle by Adriana Herrera since someone first started listing its tropes. In the end this book really satisfies, with a “he chases her bc he’s secretly had feelings for her,” plotline & a FMC who doesn’t take shit from our demanding, authoritative hero & makes him re-evaluate some very necessary things.
Alba Duarte is such a great lead. She actually designs spaces for bibliophile-lovers (is this a real thing someone can buy for me, thanks) & when she’s given a chance for a big design in Texas while she’s visiting her BFF Julia she decides to stay there, throwing the boss she’s just given notice to—who happens to secretly have been lusting for her for years— in a tizzy.
Said boss Theodoro is soon given a chance to film a reality tv show in Texas which will one, allow him to help his business, & two, eventually allow him to win Alba over once he gets her hired to design the space he’s working on for the show.
It’s fun seeing how Theodoro opens himself up once he’s no longer Alba’s boss & how she makes him question some of the things he thought about her & his own life.
The beginning starts off really strong for me, & the steam is so good, but the ending is a little wobbly. It feels like at least one thing is wrapped up pretty quickly. There are also moments when it’s a little challenging for me to understand how Theodoro could be so cold as her boss & then magically switch a flip to someone warmer, something Alba has some issues understanding as well.
But I love the book references, how she doesn’t magically fall into his arms, how he defends her, & how the FMC is the workaholic with extreme ambition in this one.
All in all another fun, steamy powerhouse contemporary from AH.
4 ⭐️. Out now!
[ID: Jess, a white woman in a bright yellow coat with brown buttons, holds the book in front of a green tree with some red & orange leaves.]
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
You’re a Mean One, Matthew Prince by Timothy Janovsky totalllly surprised me. There was so much to be delighted about in this New Adult novel & I shall enumerate it below in hopes of convincing you to give this one a try:
The tropes. Money difference, hate to love, fish out of water, only one bunk bed. All wrapped up in a male male holiday romance that had me singing “all I want for Christmas is you.”
A rich guy who’s kinda rude & undergoes a transformation of the heart after he’s cut off by his parents & sent to live with his grandparents.
Mental health rep. Matthew Prince Jr. has generalized anxiety disorder & experiences panic attacks on page. When he does, the other lead Hector Martinez helps calm him.
I didn’t fall in love with Janovsky’s first book but I’m so glad I gave this one a shot because it was everything I could have wanted. The hate to love arc is wonderfully rendered, with both leads not being at their finest coupled with assumptions they both make, & then a moment of kindness & realization that turns things sweeter between them.
This one hit me emotionally on several levels & offers so much holiday goodness.
5⭐️. Out now!
CWs: Generalized anxiety disorder. Parents aren’t the most supportive or involved.
Thanks to the publisher for the complimentary finished copy. All opinions provided are my own.
This week on the wild & zany front I went searching for titles related to the human anatomy, all inspired by recent bookmail: S. T. Gibson’s A Dowry of Blood.
Opening with a bloody image of the vampire Constanta killing her vampire husband, this book grabbed me & didn’t let go. I was pulled in by the haunting, violent, & yet sensitive story of Constanta & her life from the moment she was turned to the centuries that follow as she makes her way across Europe with her husband & their lovers.
Creepy & dark, this book gave me all the Halloween vibes. If you’re looking for a cozy vampire story or an absurd and fun Kresley Cole IAD book this isn’t it.
But in its pages there are lust & love, a real sense of history, & shining storytelling.
4 ⭐️. Out now!
CWs include violence & death. I’m sorry my list isn’t more exhaustive for this one!
Thanks to Partner @bibliolifestyle for the complimentary finished copy and the publisher & Netgalley for the complimentary e-ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Every time I open a Jenny Holiday contemporary I’m reminded of how much I like her books.
So This Is Christmas really got me going with:
❄️An uptight hero—Matteo Benz, an equerry to the king of Eldovia—who wears three piece suits on the daily, tries to be professional at all times, but is very much annoyed by the heroine. To quote the book: “He looked like a millennial dressed up as a boomer.”
❄️A business-oriented heroine—American Cara Delaney who’s visiting Eldovia & serving as a business consultant for the King. She & her job immediately rub Matteo the wrong way.
❄️Both leads recognizing that there’s more to the other lead than their initial impression & slowwwwly coming to call each other by their first names.
❄️a fun glimpse back at previous characters
❄️Holiday’s deft hand with emotions & nuance & pacing.
I feel like I’ve been really blessed on the holiday romance reading front this year & this is another adorable book that warmed my heart. If you haven’t checked out Holiday’s Eldovia series yet I really recommend it—especially book 2 which is a fave.
4.5 ⭐️. Out now!
CW: heroine’s mother forced out of home after unwed pregnancy. Cara assaulted at 16 & she fended him off using her high heel shoe.
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the complimentary e-ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
There are some authors who take the risk of always trying something new. Sarah Hogle is one of them. Some of you will really enjoy Hogle’s latest release Just Like Magic. Others of you might be like nope.
Where was I? In the former camp. This is a really fun, supremely strange, marvel-filled, very funny book. I’ll be honest: I was a bit worried about where the plot would go, but in the end Hogle handled it really well & my final feeling was of being entertained, relieved, & warm & fuzzy instead of majorly annoyed .
Bettie Hughes undergoes quite the transformation throughout Just Like Magic that’s facilitated by Hall, an embodied Holiday Spirit that she ends up meeting because of how she plays her Mariah Carey “All I Want For Christmas Is You” album one lonely night.
If just that sentence is too much this book may not be for you ;) .
Bettie is spoiled, her family is sometimes not the nicest to each other & often distant, & Bettie herself is on a mission of revenge that’s somewhat unlocked when she realizes Hall can make her wishes come true *Alexa, cue Mariah Carey holiday music.* Even if he sometimes messes her wishes up a tad .
Imagine the movie Elf but darker, & those are Hall & Bettie’s opposites attract vibes. Hall is warmth & happiness & love & understanding & vulnerability & being around him helps bloom in ways she never anticipated.
There are some truly hilarious lines in here, a fake dating situation, & some moments of defending each other to various members of her family. Plus lots of magic. All big wins on my end!
But Hall comes across a bit flat at times, as others have said, one-note, especially at the beginning.
Be advised that this book is closed door, which actually made it work better for me. Turning unexpectedly steamy wouldn’t have worked for this book’s dynamic at all.
Overall I just leaned into this book & had a really good time. I’m here for the bizarre, hilarious holiday romances .
4.5 ⭐️. Out now!
CWs: Former emotional abuse.
Give me that HEA, please.
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