Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Review: Hott Take (Hott Springs Eternal, #2) by Serena Bell



The hard part isn’t acting like we’re falling for each other. It’s pretending we’re not.

Shane: My grandfather’s will has me between a rock and a Hott place. If I don’t score a celebrity wedding, my sister will lose her wedding planning business—and our family’s land. As a playboy movie star, I know Hollywood’s ins and outs. But finding two celebrities in love is tougher than it looks.

Enter Ivy Scofield—the beautiful star of one of TV’s most beloved failures. She’s hiding from her past in Rush Creek, running a community theater for troubled kids. She needs my family’s wedding barn to save her program. So we make a deal: I give her the barn—she gives me her hand in fake marriage. Lights, camera, action—and cut—right?

Not so fast. Planning our fake wedding is way more personal than I was expecting. I’m learning Ivy’s quirks, preferences, and pet peeves—and that’s before I walk in on her enjoying my most infamous on-camera scene. Plus she’s slowly peeling back my layers—the ones I’ve built up to protect myself. If someone doesn’t do something soon, we might discover that the only thing fake about this wedding is the way we keep pushing each other away.

A spicy, movie star, marriage of convenience, fake relationship standalone romantic comedy set in the beloved small town of Rush Creek.

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 What I thought about Hott Take

My first love when it comes to reading has always been contemporary romance, and I was thrilled to be able to read and review Serena Bell's latest called Hott Take.  This series centers around the reading of a last will and testament that contains some very specific conditions for the Hott siblings.  In this second book, Shane Hott must find a celebrity marriage to save his sister's wedding business, and that isn't exactly easy.  Let's begin with a fake engagement to a local Rush Creek Ivy Scofield, a former TV star now running a community theater program in Rush Creek.

There aren't any big surprises here -- if you are familiar with the "fake" date, engagement, marriage trope, then you know exactly what is going to happen here between Shane and Ivy.  Shane makes a deal with Ivy so that she can keep her community theater going while he satisfies his grandfather's conditions with this fake engagement. Only those fake engagement tend to help people to get to know each other and in what is usually the case, they fall for each other.  That's
Shane and Ivy's story in a nutshell -- the fun part is going along for the ride with them as they discover that their pretend romance may actually lead to a true love story.

I really liked this for its romantic elements. Shane and Ivy are pretty great together, even though they may have started out acting their way through the relationship.  There's great chemistry and engaging banter that makes the story a lot of fun.  It is a quick read, which I love as well -- I want to fall into the story and just feel compelled to keep reading and that's how I felt with Hott Take. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Blog Tour Review: 5 stars for The Beloved (Black Dagger Brotherhood #22) by J. R. Ward

The daughter of a legend finds the love of a lifetime in this passionate, heart-wrenching installment in J.R. Ward’s #1 New York Times bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood series.

Nalla, the blooded daughter of Zsadist, has led a sheltered life. Protected by her father and the Brotherhood, kept away from the deadly war with the Lessening Society, she is chafing against the walls of the very safety that has ensured her survival. One night, she gives in to her restlessness...and finds herself face-to-face with a male whose inner darkness rivals even that of her sire’s horrific origins.

Nate is a fighter with nothing to lose—and nothing to live for. Tortured in a human lab as a young, then cursed with immortality, he is all vengeance and no purpose because he cares for no one—not even himself. The Brotherhood knows this all too well and following Nate’s deliberate violation of the cardinal rule in the war, they declare him a dangerous liability that must be dealt with.

When Nalla and Nate find themselves fighting side by side, daggers aren’t the only things that fly. A sizzling attraction is ignited, though Nalla knows her sire will never accept him—and on his side, Nate has made a secret bargain to end his own immortality. As the enemy closes in, and Nalla realizes she must choose between her mate and her sire, what starts with such passion may well end with eternal sorrow and no chance of a reunion—even in the Fade.

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 What I thought about The Beloved

Caldwell and the Blackdagger Brotherhood is back with the "next generation"  in The Beloved, the story of Nalla, the daughter of Zsadist and Bella and Nate, an assassin with many scars in his past.

The Beloved picks up right where Lassiter left off, which I loved about this book.  The return of Wrath was a huge moment in Lassiter and it deserved more page time, so I'm thrilled we did get to see Wrath's reunion with his fellow brothers. His return was a great way to revisit with the core group of Brothers and their shellans and I'll always want that in any BDB book.  But I was also eager to learn more about this next generation and there's plenty of Nalla, Bitty and L.W. (who I think is going to be a huge fan favorite --  I already love him!)

All of the young are now adults. They are all struggling to find themselves and cut the apron strings between them and their parents. None more than Nalla, who's father is the scariest of all the Brothers. Zsadist isn't afraid to threaten any male interested in his daughter and there's all sorts of tensions between Nalla and Bella too!  I loved the tension between them all while the deep love between them comes across so well in The Beloved. The conflicts between Nalla and her parents are realistic and a great way to start this next generation series. I loved Nalla alot in this story.  She is most definitely her father's daughter and she isn't afraid to show it! The action sequences are terrific and that ending had me cheering! 

There weren't any big surprises for me in The Beloved. It was more like a visit with old friends, but there was awesome right-on-time action, plenty of steamy moments between Nate and Nalla that will have you fanning yourself, and enough of the enemy to make you remember why they are hated. I devoured this book in a couple of days, and loved every word. Then went back and read the ending again!  Loved it! 

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Blog Tour Review & Excerpt: The Book of Thorns by Hester Fox

The Book of Thorns
Hester Fox
Publication Date: April 2, 2024
ISBN: 9781525812019
Publisher: Graydon House, Trade paperback original
Price (US) $18.99


Book Summary:

An enchanting tale of secrets, betrayal, and magic

Penniless and stranded in France after a bid to escape her cruel uncle goes awry, Cornelia Shaw is far from the Parisian life of leisure she imagined. Desperate and lacking options, she allows herself to be recruited to Napoleon’s Grande Armée. As a naturalist, her near-magical ability to heal any wound with herbal mixtures invites awe amongst the soldiers…and suspicion. For behind Cornelia’s vast knowledge of the natural world is a secret she keeps hidden—the flowers speak to her through a mysterious connection she has felt since childhood. One that her mother taught her to heed, before she disappeared.

Then, as Napoleon’s army descends on Waterloo, the flowers sing to her of a startling revelation: a girl who bears a striking resemblance to Cornelia. A girl she almost remembers—her sister, lost long ago, who seems to share the same gifts. Determined to reunite with Lijsbeth despite being on opposite sides of the war, Cornelia is drawn into a whirlwind of betrayal, secrets, and lies. Brought together by fate and magic at the peak of the war, the sisters try to uncover the key to the source of the power that connects them as accusations of witchcraft swirl and threaten to destroy the very lives they’ve fought for.

“The Book of Thorns is a gentle, magical tale of hope and healing in the midst of war. Fox does not hide from the fact that for all the romance surrounding Bonaparte’s exploits, nobody who fought at Waterloo came out unscathed, whether they were breathing by battle’s end or not. But Fox also reminds us that, even in fields tilled by cavalry charges and fertilized with gunpowder, flowers can grow.” –BOOKPAGE

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BEGONIA: a favor repaid, a warning foretold, a promise delivered in darkness.

Sussex, England, February 1815

I can feel Betsy watching me from the doorway.

She hovers like a bee, rehearsing some small speech in whis­pers. I pretend not to notice her fidgeting and instead focus on the vase of narcissi before me, the weight of my pencil in my hand. Betsy clears her throat, twice, but I am already arcing out the path of the dainty stems and unfurling petals. There is some­thing calming about reducing the flowers to splashes of grays and blacks, finding beauty in the absence of light.

Betsy lets out a throaty cough. “You might as well come in and be done with it,” I tell her without looking up.

“Yes, miss.” She drops a curtsy, her gray ringlets bouncing under her cap. “It’s just that there’s a man in the drawing room with your uncle, miss, and your uncle asks that you join them.”

I continue sketching, watching the frilly petals take shape on my paper. “Please make my excuses,” I tell her. Uncle likes to bring me out when he has business meetings, the same way he sets out the good claret and crystal goblets with the old family crest. With no wife and no children of his own, I make a pretty addition and bring a touch of softness to his otherwise hard de­meanor. “There’s a cake in the kitchen and cold ham as well that you might bring them,” I add as an afterthought.

But Betsy doesn’t leave. She wrings her hands and tuts about like a fussing hen. “No, miss. He’s for you.”

I carefully set aside my pencil. This is what I was afraid of. Closing my eyes, I rub my temples, wishing that it was anything else besides this. My time is not even my own, and I hate being pulled out of my work just to oblige Uncle.

“Very well.” I dismiss Betsy and take a moment in front of the mirror in the hall. Uncle’s friends and associates are mostly stodgy old men, but there is always the possibility that it could be someone young, someone exciting. I pinch roses into my cheeks and tease out a few of my yellow curls. If have control of noth­ing else in this house, I at least can take pride in my appearance.

I take a deep breath and let myself into the drawing room. “Betsy said you wanted me, sir?”

Uncle stands and tugs at his waistcoat. “Cornelia, come in.”

Though not more than fifty years in age, his poor temper and taste for rich food and drink has left my uncle with a ruddy complexion and portly figure. He is not a healthy man, and his jowls are loose, his complexion jaundiced. What he lacks in polished comportment, though, he makes up in his wardrobe, opting for elaborate cravats and showy brocaded waistcoats that never quite fit him but speak of money and an account in good standing at the tailor. Uncle waves me over, impatient. “Come meet Mr. Reeves.”

Obedient, I come and position myself near the window where I know the soft gray light is especially flattering to my fair com­plexion. The man unfolds himself from his chair. He is tall and spare, his black frockcoat well-cut and his boots shined. He looks familiar, perhaps from church or one of Uncle’s interminable business dinners. I suppose some might consider him handsome, but there is an intensity in his dark eyes that is more predatory than charming. “Miss Cornelia,” he says, taking my hand and bowing over it, “a pleasure.”

“Mr. Reeves.” I withdraw my hand. “I hope my uncle is not boring you with land yields and livestock accounts.”

He shares a confidential look with my uncle. “On the con­trary. Our conversation has been on the most enjoyable of top­ics.”

“He’s here to see you,” Uncle says, plowing straight into the heart of the matter as he always does. “Mr. Reeves comes as a suitor.”

Uncle makes the outcome of this meeting perfectly clear in the sharp downturn of his lips. His patience with the matter of my marital status is wearing thin.

Well, that makes two of us.

I don’t fancy marriage, but I certainly don’t fancy spending one more day than I have to under my uncle’s roof, either. My dreams of publishing a book remain foggy and out of reach, and the money from my illustrations published in a French newspaper under a nom de plume pays only a pittance. It is not enough to live on, and certainly not enough for a young woman who en­joys fine things and an easy life. A husband would solve at least two of my problems, but it would create a host more.

“I’ll leave you two alone to talk,” Uncle says, cutting me with a look that says there will be hell to pay if I emerge from this room without securing an engagement.

The air usually lightens, the room sighing a breath of relief, when Uncle leaves, but Mr. Reeves’s presence prickles me under my stays, makes me fidgety.

Betsy is posted outside the door, her needles softly clacking as she knits some horrid bonnet or muffler. Outside, a fine mist has rolled over the gentle Sussex hills. A smile spreads over Mr. Reeves’s sharp features. “Your uncle says you’re a spirited filly. That you need a strong hand to break you.”

Ah, so it is to go like that, then. I pour a cup of tea, ignoring my guest’s outstretched hand, instead lifting the cup to my lips. “That does sound like the sort of nonsense my uncle would say.”

Mr. Reeves regards me, his dark eyes calculating. “Your uncle was right, but I think he also underestimated you. I can see you possess some wits, so I’ll not mince words.” He crosses his long legs. “I am looking for a wife, and your uncle is looking to ex­pand his landholdings to the south of the county.”

If the man who has sat down across from me was meek, pli­able, then perhaps I would have more patience in hearing his suit; I don’t need someone who will get underfoot or try to handle me. Even some doddering old lord who might die quickly and leave me a widow would be acceptable. But Mr. Reeves is ir­ritatingly young and looks to be in good health.

“My uncle was mistaken. I am not in need of a husband.” I offer him a cold smile, my mind already back on my flowers, my fingers itching to hold my pencil. The light has shifted with the gathering clouds, and I will have to rework my shading.

He pours himself a cup of tea. “Come, wouldn’t you like to have a fine house? Be mistress of a whole host of servants? I can see that you enjoy some degree of freedom, and I can give you that. You will have a mare and a generous allowance.”

“I should think it would be terribly lowering to have to lure a wife into one’s home with promises of horses and gowns. Shouldn’t you rather wish her to come of her own volition be­cause she holds you in some esteem?”

“You are naive if you think that marriage is anything other than a business transaction. You are a young woman of beauty and some small means but a drain on your guardian. I am an enterprising man, with successful business dealings and a good bloodline looking for a wife who will elevate his status and or­nament his home. I hold a commission in the army and antici­pate traveling to the Continent shortly. It is a good deal for you, and you would be hard-pressed to find a better one, especially with your lack of polish and manners.”

“It’s a little late to be going over to the Continent, isn’t it? I believe we quite vanquished Napoleon.”

Irritation animates his dark eyes before he glances away, tak­ing what I suspect is an intentionally long sip of his tea.

I study him over the rim of my cup, imagining the way I would draw the sharp angle of his chin, the aquiline nose, be­fore finally placing where I’ve seen him. “You were married before, were you not?”

There is an almost imperceptible stiffening of his body. “Yes, I make no secret of the fact that I am a widower,” he says shortly.

“And how, exactly, did your first wife die?” The roses in the vase on the table beside me are vibrating, warning me. I pre­tend not to notice, pretend that I am a normal young woman who does not receive messages from flowers.

His lips thin. “An unfortunate fall.”

“Mm. She did not bear you any children, did she?”

“Barren.” He tugs at his cravat, irritated. “You would do well not to let your ear wander to every housemaid that has a piece of gossip to peddle,” he says coldly.

“In any case, I am not interested.” I move to put my cup down, but a hand closes around my wrist, hard. I look up to find that he has leaned in close, his breath hot on my neck.

“Perhaps you’ve also heard that I have certain…proclivities.”

The roses in the vase strain toward me, singing, setting my teeth on edge. My fingers begin to tremble, but I do not let him see it. “Why would you tell me that?”

“Because I think, dear girl, that you are under the impression that I would use you poorly.” He leans back, but only slightly, the air around him still charged and menacing. “I can be a very hard man when I’m tested, but I can take my pleasures else­where, so long as my wife is obedient.”

His gaze is sharp, his grip painful, and I realize that here is a dangerous man, one who is not just a brute but also clever. He cannot be fobbed off with witty barbs or batting eyelashes.

“This conversation bores me,” I tell him, standing. “I will not be your wife. I’m sorry that you wasted your time in com­ing here.”

But he makes no move to stand, his cool gaze sliding over me in a way that leaves me feeling horribly exposed. “I’ve seen you often, Cornelia. In church, sitting so demurely with your hands folded in your lap. You may think to have everyone else fooled, but I see the spirit in your eyes. A woman like you can never be satisfied with the life of a spinster, put on a shelf here in Sussex. I can offer you fine things, take you to exciting places abroad with me.”

And I’ve seen you, I think. I’ve seen how cruelly you used your first wife, the bruises on her pretty face. The way she faded little by lit­tle every week in church, until she was just a ghost in a dress, her final service that of her funeral. That will not be me.

“Surely there are other young ladies that would be flattered by your attentions,” I tell him.

“None so beautiful, none that I would take so much pleasure in breaking. The more you deny me, the more determined I am. Ask your uncle. I am a man who gets what he wants, one way or another.”

All the promise of gold or Continental trips would not be enough to tempt any marriage-minded mama to let her daugh­ter enter into an arrangement with a man like Mr. Reeves. But of course, I have no mama to arrange such matters for me, to keep me safe.

“Then, perhaps it was time you lose for a change. Do you not find it dull to always get what you expect?”

He stands, drawing close and jabbing a finger into my bodice. It takes some great force of will to stand my ground and not let him see my fear. “You may think yourself clever, but this visit was just a courtesy. Your uncle and I have all but drawn up the contract already.”

He storms out, and the room grows quiet in the wake of the front door slamming. Betsy startles from her seat where she had fallen to dozing. I close my eyes, take a breath, wait until my heartbeat grows even again. Then I return to my waiting draw­ing in the parlor.

If I work quickly, I can still finish it and have it ready for to­morrow’s post. But for now, there is no waiting publisher, no silly French pseudonym; it is just the light and the shadows and me, a silent dance as I commit them to paper. Mr. Reeves and his odious proposal quickly fade away from my mind.

But then a raised voice shatters the silence, breaking my con­centration, and there is the thundering velocity of Uncle com­ing down the hall.

 Excerpted from THE BOOK OF THORNS by Hester Fox. Copyright © 2024 by Hester Fox. Published by Graydon House, an imprint of HarperCollins.


 What I thought about The Book of Thorns

I love how this author can blend historical accuracy, engaging characters and the paranormal together in a rich mix of story that just pulls you in and keeps you interested until the end.  The Book of Thorns is no exception.

I was drawn into this book from the very first pages.  This tale of two sisters with some very special abilities was so very engaging, even though this is not a time period or setting I would generally gravitate to.  So that made this book so special for me, not only did I get to enjoy this story of two women who can communicate with flowers (and the author makes this very fresh and interesting), I learned a bit about Waterloo too.

The story is told in alternating points of view between the two sisters. They are twins, but don't know each other. Not only do they possess a fortitude for survival -- they interact with the plant life around them.  The prose is vary smooth and draws you in quickly, which makes it so easy to get immersed in the story. I needed to know what was going to happen next.

I really enjoyed The Book of Thorns. I found it engaging and fresh, romantic and tragic all at the same time.  Definitely recommended. 

 Hester Fox is a full-time writer and mother, with a background in museum work and historical archaeology. She is the author of such novels as The Witch of Willow Hall, A Lullaby for Witches, and The Last Heir to Blackwood Library. When not writing, Hester can be found exploring old cemeteries, enjoying a pastry and seasonal latte at a café, or  scouring antique shops for old photographs to add to her collection. She lives in a small mill town in Massachusetts with her husband and their two children.

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Release Day Review: The Five Year Lie by Sarina Bowen

Bestselling romance author Sarina Bowen’s debut thriller, about one woman’s search for the truth after receiving a text from her deceased ex...