Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Guest Review: Christmas in Kilts by Terri Brisbin, Lecia Cornwall, Bronwen Evans, Lavinia Kent & May McGoldrick

Posted October 12, 2017 by Tracy in Reviews | 1 Comment

Guest Review: Christmas in Kilts by Terri Brisbin, Lecia Cornwall, Bronwen Evans, Lavinia Kent & May McGoldrickReviewer: Tracy
Christmas in Kilts by Bronwen Evans, Terri Brisbin, Lecia Cornwall, Lavinia Kent, May McGoldrick
Published by Swerve
Publication Date: October 3rd 2017
Genres: Anthologies (multiple authors), Historical Romance
Buy on Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Goodreads
four-stars

A HIGHLANDER'S HOPE by Terri BrisbinA village harlot who would never dream she could have a different life meets a Highlander visitor for the holidays who brings with him an offer and hope!

LEFTOVER MISTLETOE by Lavinia KentWhat happens when a highlander finds himself stranded, maybe kidnapped, with an English lady around Christmas... maybe the mistletoe will help answer that question.

A SCOT FOR CHRISTMAS by Bronwen EvansShe's ready to embrace her life and future as a spinster, he's trying to have one last hurrah before he gives into his family's wishes and proposes marriage to his neighbor, but fate has other ideas when the lady and the Scot meet at a holiday house party in the wilds of Scotland.

SWEET HOME HIGHLAND CHRISTMAS by May McGoldrickA chance encounter between a ship's captain and a desperate aunt trying to keep custody of her young niece leads to a little magic during the holidays.

A HIGHLAND CHRISTMAS WAGER by Lecia CornwallWhen a snowstorm forces a charming lass hiding a broken heart to take shelter in a castle with three fine Highland lairds just days before Christmas, there’s a game afoot—who will be the first to win a kiss and maybe her heart.

A Highlander’s Hope by Terri Brisbin

Iain McKillop is a widower who, by my calculations, is in his mid-40’s.  He’s ready to marry again and his nephew thinks he can use him for some sort of clan alliance.  Iain knows that there’s really only one woman for him, and that’s Robena of the MacKendimen clan.

Robena is the village harlot.  While she doesn’t love what she does she has protection from people in the clan and they care about her.  The only person who ostracizes her is the Laird of the Clan – who’s not a nice man anyway.  Robena is excited when she hears that Iain is coming to visit for Christmas because she loves spending time with him.  He puts a genuine smile on her face and of course she loves that he pays for her exclusive services while he’s there.

Robena can tell right away that there’s something different with Iain but is shocked when he asks for her hand in marriage.  He wants a wife and a mother to his children.  She doesn’t think she’s good enough for him and besides, she can’t have children – how can she be the person that Iain needs in his life?

I have to say that I wasn’t a huge fan of this story when it started but Iain and Robena soon won me over.  Iain was such a giving man and he truly loved Robena – despite her profession.  He dealt with her past men in his own way but certainly wasn’t willing for her to be with anyone else ever again.  It was a sweet story in the end and I liked how Brisbin worked out the details of their future life together.

 

A Highland Christmas Wager by Lecia Cornwall

Meggie MacLeod is traveling home with her grandmother.  She is excited to be going home for Christmas after being gone for three months taking care of her grandmother after she’d broken her leg.  Unfortunately the weather is against them and they can’t make their halfway point before the blizzard begins.  Their travelling group takes refuge at the closest keep and that happens to be the home of the man who’d taken Meggie’s virginity eight years earlier. She’s definitely not happy about being there.

Magnus McVane is the Laird that had seduced and left Meggie all those years ago.  She’d thought herself in love with him after only 3 days but after he finally had sex with her, he left to go get married.  She was devastated.  Magnus isn’t home alone, however.  He has his dead wife’s brother, Charlie McKay – yet another Laird – there with him.  Magnus is hoping to get Charlie to marry his sister, Catriona, who they all think is a shrew.  Also visiting is Laird Hugh MacAuley who is there under unknown circumstances.  When Magnus sees Meggie he’s positive he can seduce her again and then he could probably marry her as she’s an heiress.  Charlie’s got his eye on her as well though, and they end up making a wager, dragging Hugh into their game.  Whoever gets Meggie to willingly kiss them first – a long kiss, not just a peck – gets a few prized possessions from each man, but also the right to talk to her father about her hand in marriage.

Hugh is at the keep as he’s been instructed by the elders of his clan to ask for Catriona’s hand in marriage – something he really doesn’t want to do.  The elders don’t think the man has a brain and though he is laird he truly has no power.  When he sees Meggie he is attracted to her immediately and rethinks his possible proposal to Catriona.  He’s a shy man, however, and bumbles along with Meggie despite her attention to him.

This was a lovely, romantic story.  I loved Hugh and his quiet, calm personality.  He was a breath of fresh air compared to the obnoxious Magnus and the over-excitable Charlie.  Hugh and Meggie were perfect for each other and the ending of the story put a smile on my face.

 

A Scot for Christmas by Bronwen Evans

Dougray is thinking about getting married to beget an heir but he plans on a marriage of convenience so that he won’t get attached to a wife.  His first wife died and he doesn’t want to have to live through that once again. His plan is to marry a neighbor’s daughter, Fiona Mackenzie, so that he can help her father financially. He made a promise to his dying father that he would help the Mackenzie, but the man would not accept his funds – even as a loan.  Marrying Fiona is the only way he can get the funds to him.

Dougray and his cousin, Angus, are having a hunting party around Christmas time.  A party that includes his friends and their paramours, with a couple other women of questionable virtue coming along as well.  When Dougray’s best friend’s younger sister arrives he’s horrified and tries to get her to leave at once.  She refuses, of course, and instead asks him something.  She is in her late 20’s and has come to terms with her spinsterhood.  She asks Dougray to sleep with her.  She’s been in love with him for years and plans on having the memory of their lovemaking to last the rest of her life.  Dougray refuses at first but then finally agrees as he can’t resister her. He doesn’t realize until later that Emma is in love with him.  Despite his growing feelings for Emma he’s determined to marry Fiona Mackenzie. He refuses to have a wife he cares about.

This was a good story, not one of my least favorites.  I guess it was just too predictable in my opinion. I knew that Dougray would sleep with Emma, of course, and he would fall in love with her and live happily ever after.  It was written in an entertaining way, and I liked the characters, but I just wasn’t a huge fan of A Scot for Christmas.

 

Leftover Mistletoe by Lavinia Kent

Emma Spencer is having a bad day – really, a bad life.  Her dear father had passed on and her cousin had taken the Earl’s title.  Unfortunately her cousin wasn’t a kind man and she was being sent to Scotland to live with her uncle who she didn’t even know.  Emma had marriage prospects as she was quite pretty. She believes her cousin is sending her away so she won’t ever marry.  Her financial portion would then stay in his hands forever.

She was travelling when her maid disappeared with her bag.  Her trunks were coming later and with the maid gone she was left with the clothes on her back, her reticule, and very little money.  She buys passage on a coach and the only other passenger is a snoring man who takes up way too much room.  At one point during their travels they stop.  Emma doesn’t know why and soon all is quiet.  When the man finally wakes up and goes to investigate he finds that there’s no coachman and the team of horses have been driven off as well.  He’s familiar with the land so he takes Emma to a cabin where they try to brave the storm that has begun.

Emma finds out he’s James Barran and he’s on his way to Edinburgh so that he can stop his sister from marrying his best friend.  He loves his best friend, but doesn’t want his sister marrying him.  He’s bound and determined to stop the wedding but his friend Robbie kept throwing up roadblocks to stop him.  One being the fact that Robbie paid the coachman to take the horses and now he and Emma are stranded.  They head to the cabin and while they’re there their attraction to each other grows and they start to fall in love.

Kent always writes such charming romances.  This was no different.  Yes, the couple fell in love quickly but it fit with their lives and circumstances of their confinement.  I thought James and Emma were perfect for each other and complimented each other well.   The humor in the story is another thing I liked about this story.  The banter between Emma and James was engaging and I found myself smiling a lot while reading.

 

Sweet Home Highlands by May McGoldrick

Captain Gregory Pennington is on his way home to his family for Christmas but is tasked by his brother with escorting four adults and a child to a neighboring estate near his home.  He’s in a pub and is anxious to be on his way when a small child starts up a conversation. She’s a funny little imp and mature beyond her 5 or 6 years.  It turns out that this is the child that he is to escort along with her aunt, Freya, and couple of servants.  The fourth person was to be Freya’s almost-fiancé but he doesn’t ever show up.

Freya is a young woman who has raised her niece almost from birth.  She was only 17 when her sister died a week after giving birth and she loves little Ella like her own.  Ella’s father was killed in the war and his family never wanted anything to do with Ella until recently.  Now Ella’s grandmother is demanding their appearance at her home so that she can make sure that Ella is financially well taken care of.  She also intimated that Freya wasn’t a proper guardian because she wasn’t married.  Because of this Freya had an understanding with the cousin that would inherit Freya’s father’s title and lands when he eventually passed.  Freya wasn’t looking forward to the marriage but was resigned to her fate in order to keep Ella with her.

Gregory is smitten with Freya the minute he sees her.  The minutes they spend together on the journey just make him like her more and more.  Freya starts to fall for Gregory as well but she knows that she must marry her cousin in order to appease Ella’s grandmother.

As I read more of McGoldrick’s books the more I become a fan.  This story was simply romantic on all levels.  It was the kind of story that will make you sigh with wonder at how sweet it is – but not sugary at all.  Just downright a lovely story.  This is kind of a prequel to a new series that McGoldrick is putting out and I personally can’t wait for it to release.

Gregory and Freya were wonderful in the story and little Ella – that child with a personality beyond her years – was enchanting.  I liked everything about this story and highly recommend it.

 

In the end I thought this was a very good historical anthology.  A lovely compliment of authors that brought a little Christmas cheer and romance to my life.

Rating: 4 out of 5

four-stars


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Guest Review: Werebiker by Paige Cuccaro

Posted September 13, 2017 by Tracy in Reviews | 1 Comment

Guest Review: Werebiker by Paige CuccaroReviewer: Tracy
Werebiker by Paige Cuccaro
Published by Swerve
Publication Date: September 12th 2017
Genres: Paranormal Romance
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Goodreads
two-half-stars

Years after she thought she left town for good, Jillian is back and has enlisted the help of her older brother’s ex-best friend (and the man who broke her heart), Jack, to track down her sister-in-law, who’s fallen in with a rival biker gang—but Jack knows they’re werewolves, and that he has to protect Jillian at any cost, even if she hates him.

Jill is shopping for a motorcycle when she runs into Jack, her brothers ex-best friend.  He refuses to sell her a bike when she tells him what she wants it for.  Her brother is coming home from his military service and his wife is MIA.  Jill has found out that she’s been hanging around an MC called the Hellhounds.  When Jack finds out he’s determined to keep her away from the Hellhounds but Jill is too determined to let it go.

Jack knows that the Hellhounds are bad because he once was one.  The night before he was set to take off to basic training with his best friend, Jill’s brother, he was attacked and turned into a werewolf.  The guys in the Hellhounds have a way of mesmerizing women so that they never want to leave their side.  This is what has happened to Jill’s sister-in-law, Carrie.  Despite Jack’s warnings Jill makes bad decision after bad decision going after Carrie but there’s only one way to get her back to her brother’s side and that’s to find the cure for the “virus” that has infected the Hellhounds.

This story had an interesting blurb and premise so I thought I’d give it a try.  Unfortunately there was a lot about it that just didn’t work for me.  First, Jack and Jill’s antagonism toward each other – it just didn’t feel authentic.  Yes, they had every reason to be mad at each other but it felt forced.  Jack also did everything in his power to keep Jill away from the Hellhounds and she was so freaking stubborn she put herself into trouble more than once and had to be saved.  It annoyed me that she was being so stupid!

When it came to the romance – it fell flat for me.  Jack and Jill (don’t even get me started on the names!) had kissed at one point but Jack had walked away.  Jill’s feelings were hurt but she’d never given up hope that they could one day be together.  Jack wants to stay away from her because of what he is but can’t seem to do it.  The romance ended up feeling rushed, especially at the end, and I just wasn’t feeling it.

Overall the story is mildly entertaining, but I can’t say that I recommend this book.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

two-half-stars


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Review: So I Married a Sorcerer by Kerrelyn Sparks

Posted August 31, 2017 by Holly in Reviews | 4 Comments

Review: So I Married a Sorcerer by Kerrelyn SparksReviewer: Holly
So I Married a Sorcerer (The Embraced, #2) by Kerrelyn Sparks
Series: The Embraced #2
Also in this series: How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days (The Embraced, #1)
Published by St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: August 29th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 496
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Goodreads
four-stars

Growing up on the Isle of Moon, Brigitta knows nothing of her past, except that she is Embraced: born with powers that forced her into hiding. Everything changes when she learns she’s a princess, hidden away from her villainous half-brother who now rules the kingdom. But he knows about Brigitta, and he’ll do anything to get her back. Unless a certain roguish pirate has anything to say about it…

Rupert is both an infamous pirate and a sorcerer with the power to harness the wind. He’s been waiting nineteen years for revenge—and he needs Brigitta to get it. What begins as a kidnapping of the fiery beauty turns into a fierce attraction. But can he win the captive princess’s heart?

So I Married a Sorcerer is the second book in The Embraced series. I skipped book one, How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days, and don’t feel like I missed anything. It stands alone well.

Brigitta and her 3 adopted sisters were raised together in a convent on the Isle of Moon after their families gave them up because they are Embraced – meaning they were born with magical powers. Brigitta knows nothing of her past, so when a naval fleet chases her ship down while she’s on her way to visit one of her sisters, she’s shocked to learn she’s actually a princess long thought dead. When she’s captured by pirates and she realizes the vision her sister foretold is coming true, she’s both frightened and exhilarated.  As she learns more about her biological family and the pirate Rupert, she can’t help but wonder …who is the hero of this story, and who is the villain?

Rupert has been waiting 19 years to gain his revenge against Brigitta’s family. When he finds out she’s alive, he knows this is the opportunity he’s been waiting for. By ransoming her to her brother, he’ll finally gain the leverage he needs to avenge his past. The problem? He’s having a hard time with the thought of putting Brigitta in danger. He should hate her. After all, she’s the sister of his greatest enemy. But it doesn’t take long for him to realize she’s completely innocent..and quite possibly destined to be his. Can he set aside his need for revenge to win her?

This is my first book by Sparks. I avoided her novels in the past because I thought they were really light and campy. While that may be true (or not! I’m not even sure why I thought that) of her other novels, this was actually a fairly dark read. Brigitta’s strength and quiet determination were lovely to read about. I really enjoyed her and Rupert, both together and apart. He had a rock solid core of honesty and goodness that really worked. Together they were well matched.

The adventure and world-building were also very well done. I really enjoyed the setting and learning more about the world. I plan to go back and read book one.

Filled with action, adventure, betrayal, revenge, love and a strong sense of family, So I Married a Sorcerer was a great read all around.

4 out of 5

four-stars


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Guest Review: One True Pairing by Cathy Yardley

Posted August 24, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 1 Comment

Guest Review: One True Pairing by Cathy YardleyReviewer: Jen
One True Pairing by Cathy Yardley
Series: Fandom Hearts #2
Also in this series: Level Up
Published by Swerve
Publication Date: July 25th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 200
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Goodreads
four-stars

They couldn't be more opposite, the Hollywood actor and the hometown girl, but all they need is a little convention magic to become the perfect ship in Cathy Yardley's One True Pairing.

Jake Reese needs a decoy girlfriend. Fast. The lead actor of the popular TV show, Mystics, is tired of losing his shirt to overeager fans. Literally. Which is why a chance meeting with gothabilly bookworm-slash-barista Hailey Frost seems almost too perfect to be true. Hailey is not impressed with his TV fame and is desperate to save her family's bookstore. It's a match made in Hollywood, but as the two pretend to date, fan fiction becomes reality. Can this OTP become canon?

I was absolutely charmed by Cathy Yardley’s Level Up when I read it last year, so I was beyond excited that her series was picked up by a major publisher and that there was a new book coming out. I didn’t love One True Pairing as much as Level Up, but I had a great time reading it.

In Level Up, we met the sisters running the failing bookstore, and this book focuses on one of those sisters, Hailey Frost. The sisters are barely keeping their head above water, and Hailey is hustling in every way she can to keep the bookstore open, mostly so that her agoraphobic sister Cressida won’t be forced to move. If you read Level Up, you’ll remember that the women all love a show called Mystics, which is frequently compared to the real-life show Supernatural. Jake Reese is an actor on the show, and when Hailey meets him by chance, she concocts a plan to get his help to give the store publicity. Jake needs Hailey’s help, too. He is worried his contract for Mystics won’t be renewed, and his agent suggests that getting himself out there more would help. Hailey offers to help him increase his popularity if he helps her save the bookstore. Of course, things don’t go as smoothly as either one expects, and both of them have to figure out how to overcome their fears to move forward.

Hailey is a great character. She’s tough and totally devoted to her sisters, but she’s put her own needs aside for years in an effort to take care of them. Unlike so many romance characters, Hailey lives paycheck to paycheck. She worries about money, about healthcare, about what to do when she loses a job. It’s kind of refreshing to read! She is absolutely, totally terrified of relationships, however, and when she starts having feelings for Jake it freaks her out. Jake, though, is my favorite. He is an absolute sweetheart, and I loved that he was so ready to be the kind of partner Hailey needed. I really enjoyed reading about the conflict with his dad as well. His dad was a major Hollywood star, and he had a lot of expectations for how his son’s career should go. You can tell Jake has tried so hard to do what his dad wanted because he just wanted his dad’s love. In reality, though, Jake was just a nice, geeky guy who enjoyed being on Mystics because it was fun and fulfilling, and he needed to give up trying to meet his dad’s expectations of fame and stardom. I wanted to give him a giant hug.

For the most part, the conflicts in the book are realistic. Jake is wary at first about Hailey’s motives, as he should be. In fact, she really IS using him, and I didn’t love that. She wants him to promote her bookstore, and I couldn’t help feeling a little bad that while Jake genuinely wants to get to know her, she wants something else from him. Of course, she is helping him with his PR problems too so it’s not all one-sided, but Jake was such a sweetie that I felt a little protective of him! Because Jake is a genuinely nice guy, the time where he punches someone felt extremely out of character for him, and I thought it was an unnecessary inclusion. Jake could have handled the situation in a million other ways. Still, it was a small blip in an otherwise consistent story.

While I think everyone should read Level Up because it’s so great, you don’t have to read it to enjoy One True Pairing. It’s a smart, modern story and I loved it.

Grade: 4 out of 5

four-stars


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Guest Review: How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days by Kerrelyn Sparks

Posted July 31, 2017 by Jen in Reviews | 1 Comment

Guest Review: How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days by Kerrelyn SparksReviewer: Jen
How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days (The Embraced, #1) by Kerrelyn Sparks
Series: The Embraced #1
Also in this series: So I Married a Sorcerer (The Embraced, #2)
Published by St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: March 7th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
Pages: 396
Buy on Amazon | Barnes & Noble
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Luciana grew up on the Isle of Moon, hidden away because of her magical powers. But when her father arrives, he offers her a choice: remain on the island or return with him and marry the Beast of Benwick in order to save their legacy—and her father's life.

Lord Leofric, the Beast of Benwick, has not been touched since he was a child. Born with the power to harness lightning, he is a danger to everyone he touches. When he meets his betrothed, he expects a loveless, lonely marriage...until he discovers she's vastly more powerful than he realized. But is she strong enough to withstand his touch?

If they can survive, their love will alter the future of the kingdom. But will their extraordinary powers cost them everything?

This book is somewhat inspired by Beauty and the Beast, though to be honest it’s only very loosely related. In this story, the man with the Beast moniker is Lord Leofric, Leo for short. Leo is one of The Embraced, people born with supernatural powers. Normally The Embraced are killed when they are born because the world fears them, but Leo escapes that fate because he’s part of the royal family and because he’s so dangerous that he’s hard to kill. He can harness the power of lightning, and one touch of his skin can kill (and has, many times). He uses his power to protect his people, but they all are terrified and basically shun him. Luciana is also Embraced, but she escaped death by being hidden away in a convent her entire life, thinking her family was dead. It turns out they’re not, though, and because of political machinations by the cruel king, the only way she can save her father is by marrying The Beast. Luciana could be killed if she reveals the truth of her story to Leo, but if they don’t work together they can’t stop the king’s evil plots.

If you like tortured heroes, Leo should appeal! He does have a few friends, but for the most part he lives in isolation. People literally turn away from him in disgust and fear, yet he soldiers on using his power to protect his people even though they think he’s the one causing danger instead of stopping it. Moreover, harnessing the lightning is excruciatingly painful, and he’s pushing his body to its limits by doing it because he wants to protect others, which is a hell of a position for him to be in. Perhaps most heartbreaking of all, he can’t touch. He can’t be hugged, can’t hold hands, can’t even get a pat on the head, because even through clothing his power will injure or kill. Luciana is the only person apart from a few friends who sees the good Leo does instead of believing the rumors. There’s one scene where bystanders once again misinterpret a situation and think Leo is behind something dangerous, but Luciana loudly and publicly defends him. That scene just made my heart melt. It was clearly the first time anyone had ever stood up for Leo before; I’m smiling just thinking about it. The sexual tension between them is great, too. As you can imagine, “no touching or you’ll die” is quite the conundrum in a romance! I won’t tell you the hows and whys, but I can assure you this book is sexy.

I liked Luciana a lot as well. Her power is that she can talk to the dead, which comes in handy when she’s trying to learn about her new life. She’s sweet and kind and patient, but she’s not a particularly deep character. Really, though, neither is Leo. He has a lot of pain, but I almost felt like it didn’t impact his character as much as one would expect. He has been very isolated, yet he still is perfectly socially adept, flirting with his bride-to-be, handling the management of his estates, working with his army, etc. I just didn’t see a lot of consequences to his isolation.

Luciana has to lie to Leo and everyone else to save her father, which is perfectly understandable. She obviously didn’t know Leo and would have been foolish to trust him quickly. However, I really wanted her to come clean sooner, simply because I wanted to see her and Leo’s relationship develop further. Leo basically figures it all out on his own (and I appreciate that he absolutely accepts why she’s lying and doesn’t act all butt hurt about it), but the actual conversation between the two is a long time coming. Combine the secrets with the draggy pace in some parts and the fairly limited contact Leo and Luciana have for part of the book and you have a romance that never goes quite as deep as I would have liked.

I am extremely interested in the world Sparks has created, and I am hoping that future books won’t need to do as much world building as this one, leaving more time for developing the characters and relationships.

Grade: 3.5 out of 5

three-half-stars


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