A MONSTER LIKE ME by Pamela Sparkman

Heart of Darkness series #2

HELLO STRANGER by Lisa Kleypas

The Ravenels series #4


Companion to the Full Tilt series


Heartbreaker Bay series #7

UNWRITTEN by Jen Frederick

Woodlands series #5

Cross My Heart by L.H. Cosway

Hearts series #5.75

MOONSHADOW by Thea Harrison

Moonshadow series #1

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Blog Tour: Celebration at Christmas Cove with Excerpt by Carrie Jansen

In this humorous and heartwarming romance, sparks fly between a woman who can't wait to leave a wintry New England island, and a widower who would do anything to stay.

Series: Sea Spray Island #1
Publication date: October 26, 2021
Published by: Berkley
Genre: contemporary romance, holiday

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Travel magazine writer Celeste Bell is in a terrible mood. Not only was her flight to the Caribbean diverted to a Massachusetts island, now it looks like she’ll have to spend Christmas there. Single and still mourning the loss her mother a year earlier, Celeste is desperate to avoid any emotional entanglements and all holiday festivities. She just doesn’t feel like celebrating.
But that’s exactly what community center executive director Nathan White and his young daughter, Abigail, want to do. Nathan is entirely focused on making sure that his daughter has a happy Christmas, especially with the knowledge that if he can’t raise money for the community center soon, it will close and they’ll have to leave the island. When he meets Celeste, Nathan begins to feel a connection and wonders if he’s brave enough to risk his heart once more.
Thawing their frozen hearts and saving the community center will require a Christmas miracle. But tis the season…

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Monday—December 19 

“You’re bumping me?” As a writer for an elite travel magazine, Celeste Bell had virtually flown around the world over the course of the past seven years and she’d never been bumped from a flight. She knew it was bound to happen sooner or later; she just didn’t want it happening now. 

“We paged you three times, but since you weren’t at the gate for initial boarding, we assigned the seat to another passenger,” the agent explained. 

Celeste wasn’t at the gate because she’d had to bring her luggage to the ticket counter after changing out of the ugly sweater she’d worn to her office holiday party earlier that day. This season, she’d been avoiding Christmas festivities like the flu, but since participation was mandatory, she reluctantly donned the most hideous apparel she could find: a fluffy, white sweater with a cartoonish fir tree emblazoned across the front. The tree was crowned with a blinking LED-powered star, and a dozen miniature, multicolored sleigh bells were strung from its boughs with silver tinsel. The sweater bore an uncanny resemblance to a yuletide craft Celeste had made in first grade from a paper plate, cotton balls, glitter and various geometric shapes cut from red, green and yellow felt. Oh, the things she did for the sake of her career. 

“I get it. Symbolism,” Brad, the college intern, remarked. Holding a plastic cup of eggnog in one hand and a chocolate mint brownie in the other, he gestured toward her midsection with his chin. “You chose that sweater because your last name’s Bell, right?” 

The bells were actually Celeste’s least favorite part of the sweater, which was saying a lot. Whenever she walked from her cubicle to her boss’s office or to the break room and back again, their jingling made her feel like a Clydesdale horse—it didn’t help that she’d gathered her long, thick blond hair into a high ponytail—and drew increasingly annoyed looks from her coworkers over the course of the day. 

She intended to switch wardrobes before a colleague drove her to Logan International Airport, but at the last minute, the magazine’s editor in chief, Philip Carrington, tasked Celeste with proofreading Brad’s post about the Boston Harbor Holiday Cruise. And by proofreading Philip meant rewriting. Brad’s draft was so poorly structured, it took Celeste half an hour to reword it, and by that time her coworker was threatening to leave without her. 

When she arrived at the airport, Celeste wheeled her luggage into the restroom so she could change. She removed her heavy winter coat, scarf and gloves, and she stuffed them into her suitcase, along with her socks and shoes. Then, she opened her smaller carry-on and checked to make sure she had a travel blanket with her before adroitly exchanging her slacks and ugly sweater for a casual slate-blue swing dress and crochet cardigan. Finally, she slid her feet into a pair of canvas sneakers. Celeste intended to be ready for the tropical Caribbean temps the moment she stepped off the plane. 

But first she’d have to step onto the plane. 

“Are you sure there aren’t any seats left?” It was an inane question, and Celeste could hear the whine of desperation in her own voice. 

“I can book you on the eleven-thirty-six flight tomorrow morning. Of course, we’ll compensate you for the inconvenience, as well.” 

Tomorrow was December 20. Technically, Celeste didn’t need to be in the Caribbean until first light on December 23. That’s when the Christmas carnival—or simply carnival, as it was called—for the particular island she was visiting kicked off a daybreak street party known as j’ouvert. The trip was a mix of business and pleasure; after taking a couple days to enjoy a much-needed break, Celeste would spend December 23, 24 and 25 attending carnival and describing its highlights in a Christmas Day post on the magazine’s blog. That meant if she didn’t leave Boston until almost noon tomorrow, she’d squander nearly a full day of vacation. Even so, Celeste cared less about that than she did about the weather forecast, which warned that a nor’easter was brewing. If it followed its projected course, the storm could pack a wallop in terms of snow accumulation, and who knew how that might affect air travel for the next few days. She couldn’t risk it. 

“Would you check for flights on other airlines, please?” 

The agent’s fingernails clicked against the keyboard, her expression impassive. After what felt like an eon, she said, “If we hurry, I can book a seat for you on a flight with our partner airline, IslandSky. There would be a brief layover on Sea Spray Island—” 

“I’ll take it,” Celeste said as the woman continued to speak. 

“—then you’d continue to New York City and from there you’d fly nonstop—” 

“Yes, thank you, that’s what I want to do.” Celeste didn’t care about the small print, she just needed to get on that flight. 

A few more minutes of keyboard clicking and then Celeste was off and running, dodging fellow travelers and circumventing airport vendors as she darted toward Terminal C with her carry-on bag in tow, the sweater inside it jingling all the way. As she ran, she recognized it wasn’t really the need for an extra day of relaxation that spurred her on. Nor was it solely that she’d made a professional commitment to cover the carnival. No, what really urged Celeste forward was the fear that if she didn’t leave now, right now, it would be too late and then there’d be no escaping for Christmas. 

And escaping was her primary purpose in volunteering to immerse herself in a Caribbean carnival while all of her coworkers were celebrating Christmas with their families. From the rollicking parades and music, to the lively dancing, vibrant costumes and mouthwatering food, the carnival wasn’t likely to evoke memories of the calm and cozy but joyful Christmases that Celeste used to celebrate. On the contrary, going to the Caribbean would keep her from thinking about how it had been just over a year since her mother passed away. And it would take her mind off the fact that she was still lonely. Still alone. 

Just thinking about not thinking about it made her lungs contract. 

Or maybe it was the exertion of tearing through an overly dry, hot and crowded airport trailing an unwieldy piece of luggage in her wake. As fit as she was, by the time Celeste arrived at her gate she was gasping. Light-headed, she hardly registered that the descending ramp the agent directed her to follow led outside to ground level where the plane awaited her on the tarmac. 

Celeste skidded to a standstill. The realization hit her like a gelid gust of air: it’s a prop plane. When it came to prop planes or Christmas festivities, it was almost a toss-up as to which distressed her more. Almost but not quite. Pressing her dress flat against her legs so it wouldn’t fly up in the wind, Celeste numbly soldiered forward, the end of her ponytail lashing sideways at her face. 

She climbed the four ladder-like steps and entered the dimly lit interior where a flight attendant—or was he the copilot?—reached to take her carry-on for stowing while simultaneously issuing safety instructions. Overcome with either regret or relief, Celeste plunked herself into the seat closest to the door, fastened the buckle around her waist and closed her eyes. She was finally on her way. 

From CELEBRATION AT CHRISTMAS COVE published by arrangement with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. 

Copyright © 2021 by Carrie Jansen.


Carrie Jansen earned an MFA in creative writing and published many poems and short stories before becoming a novelist. An avid bodyboarder and beach walker, she spends as much of the year as she can on Cape Cod, where she draws inspiration for her contemporary romances. She also writes Amish romance novels under her pseudonym, Carrie Lighte.

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Friday, October 1, 2021

Blog Tour with Review: Luminous by Mara Rutherford

From the author of Crown of Coral and Pearl comes an immersive new fantasy about a witch who must learn to harness her power--or risk losing her loved ones forever.

Series: standalone
Publication date: October 5, 2021
Published by: Inkyard Press
Genre: Teen & Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy

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Liora has spent her life in hiding, knowing discovery could mean falling prey to the king's warlock, Darius, who uses mages' magic to grow his own power. But when her worst nightmare comes to pass, Darius doesn't take her. Instead, he demands that her younger sister return to the capital with him. To make matters worse, Evran, Liora's childhood friend and the only one who knows her secret, goes missing following Darius's visit, leaving her without anyone to turn to.

To find Evran and to save her sister, Liora must embrace the power she has always feared. But the greatest danger she'll face is yet to come, for Darius has plans in motion that will cause the world to fall into chaos--and Liora and Evran may be the only ones who can stop him. 

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Excerpted from Luminous by Mara Rutherford, © 2021 by Mara Rutherford. Used with permission from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins.

     My father once described magic as an invisible beast, an unseen enemy that could snatch our lives away at any moment. As a small, impressionable child, I had imagined a lupine creature lurking outside among the whispering pines, breathing over my shoulder in our garden. For years, I didn’t even leave the house; it was magic that had killed my mother, after all.
     I was old enough now to understand that magic didn’t work that way. But as I hurried down the dark road, past the woods that had become my haven during daylight hours, my childhood fears didn’t feel so foolish. I glanced behind me, sure I’d find Belle Sabine, the fabled witch of every young woman’s nightmares, swooping down as silent as an owl, ready to steal my youth and leave an empty husk behind.
To my relief, there was nothing there. My only traveling companion was the wind nipping at my heels, spurring me forward. But in my brief distraction, I tripped over a rock in the road, falling hard onto my knees. Cursing myself for my clumsiness and superstition, I dusted off my hands, wincing as a sharp pebble dislodged from my palm. I couldn’t afford this kind of delay. It was close to midnight, and there was no moon to speak of, which made my situation even more precarious; my exposed skin glowed so brightly that moths circled me like a flame. But my little sister, Mina, was missing. I had to tell Father.
As I rose, I heard the sound of footsteps up the road. I glanced around for a place to hide, but there was no time. A moment later, a figure loomed at the margins of my glow.
     Some said Belle Sabine had died, others that she was biding her time until the townspeople became complacent once again. But I was convinced she had come to kill me on the one night I had dared to venture past our threshold.
     I shrank back as skirts and slippered feet came into view, followed by a woman’s arms cradling a basket, and finally, the face of Margana, the weaver who lived next door. Not here to kill me, then. But a witch, nevertheless. And one arguably as dangerous as Belle Sabine, given who she worked for.
     “What are you doing on the road, Liora? It’s the middle of the night.”
     “Mina is gone,” I said. “Father is still at work, and I didn’t know what else to do.”
Margana scrutinized me for a moment. “You’re a witch.”
     A chill that had nothing to do with the cool night air crept over my scalp. No one had ever called me a witch to my face before, though of course I knew what I was. My entire life revolved around my glowing skin and the fear that the kingdom’s most powerful warlock would discover it. Lord Darius was employed by the king himself, gathering mages and torturing them if they didn’t do his bidding.
     I pulled Father’s cloak tighter around myself, but it was futile. She already knew. I had wasted too much time getting up the nerve to leave the house after I found Mina’s bed empty, wringing my hands at the window, wondering if she’d been kidnapped by drifters or lured into the forest by a ghost lantern. Then, once I was on the road, I had foolishly stopped to look at the devil’s footprints, little white mushrooms that grew in pairs of two, resembling the cloven hooves of a demon. I’d seen them in daylight plenty of times, but never at night. They had caught my eye because their glow was so similar to my own.
Oddly, Margana’s basket was full of the mushrooms. Her cornflower-blue eyes and auburn hair were pale and otherworldly in their light. As if sensing my curiosity, she shifted the basket to her other hip. Margana was one of the few people who lived outside the gates of the ancient village of Sylvan, like us. She was also my best friend Evran’s mother—and the only other witch I knew.
     “I always wondered why your father moved you girls out here after your mother died,” she said. “Now it all makes sense. But something tells me your father wouldn’t be pleased to know you’re outside, exposing yourself.” She grabbed one of my hands and turned it over, examining it like a bruised apple at market. Against Margana’s dull skin, mine looked false, as if I wasn’t a real person at all.
     I pulled my hand free as politely as possible. “I should go.”
She sighed. “Keep your head down, and pray you don’t meet anyone on the road. Darius’s spies are everywhere.”
     My eyes widened in fear, and she chuckled to herself. “Not me, silly girl.”
     I swallowed audibly. If there really were spies in Sylvan, Margana was the most likely suspect. After all, she did work for Lord Darius. She might not be his servant by choice, but he was dangerous enough that no mage dared cross him. No mage who had lived to tell about it, anyway.
I was about to step around her when my eyes drifted to the basket once again. “I thought the devil’s footprints were poisonous.”
     Her lips curved in a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Oh, they are. Highly. Fortunately, I don’t plan on eating them. Good luck, Liora.”
     I nodded and hurried to the stone steps leading down to Sylvan, which was tucked away in a gorge, hidden from the roving eyes of river pirates. Above me, a heavy iron chain was suspended between the cliffs. As far as I knew, Sylvan was the only village in Antalla—maybe the world—that could boast having attracted not one, but two falling stars. A fragment of the first had been melted into the shape of a five-pointed star and hung from the chain. At night, it was only a glimmer overhead.
     The second star—my star—had disintegrated amid the flames when it landed.
I wound my way silently through Sylvan’s narrow streets, toward Father’s shop. He and Adelle, my older, more responsible sister, were likely the only ones working at this hour. Just as I quickened my pace, I heard a high-pitched shriek from somewhere above me. I looked up to where a lamp winked on in an apartment window, illuminating two silhouettes, then down to the shop on my left. The tailor’s shop.
     Without thinking, I grabbed the cast-iron boot scraper sitting by the front door of the shop and hurled it through the window. Glass shattered, leaving a jagged hole that gaped like a mouth midscream.
Heart racing, I flattened myself against the alcove by the door as a man shouted and a window screeched open. The tailor, a young man nearly as alluring as the fabrics he sold, poked his head out for a moment, then disappeared, likely heading downstairs to look for the culprit. I scurried to the nook in front of the butcher’s, hoping my light would be hidden there.
     “Get behind me,” Luc said from somewhere inside the shop. “The thief could still be out there.”
     “You’re so brave.”
I sighed in relief at the sound of Mina’s voice, before fury shot through me like an arrow. I should have known she would come to the tailor’s; she had flirted with Luc relentlessly today, which was how we’d acquired four yards of the champagne-colored silk she wanted for the dress I’d spent all evening working on.
     A moment later, they emerged onto the street, Mina clutching at Luc’s sleeve as he lifted his lamp and peered into the darkness.
     He tossed his black hair out of his eyes and frowned. “It doesn’t look like they stole anything. Just vandals, I suppose.”
     “Or someone trying to send you a message,” Mina breathed, dramatic as ever. “Do you have any nemeses?”
     When he turned his dark gaze on her, something tugged at my heart. She was wearing a dress I’d made for myself when I was her age. It hung loose on her thin frame, but the hem grazed her calves, a sure sign she had altered it. She had nothing but a shawl pulled around her shoulders, and from where I stood, it was painfully clear that the tailor was not interested in her the way she no doubt hoped.
     “I have to find a member of the night guard and report this. You shouldn’t be here. If your father catches you, he’ll have me hanged. You’re a sweet girl, Mina, but this is inappropriate.”
     “But the silk…”
     “That was for your sister. Now, please, go home.”
     Mina caught her lip in her teeth to keep from crying. With a nod, she hurried away, tears already streaming down her cheeks. I waited for Luc to start up the street before I ran out of the alcove to catch her.
     She squealed in alarm when I placed my hand on her shoulder, and I quickly clapped my other hand over her mouth.
     “It’s me,” I whispered, lowering my hand slowly when I was confident she wouldn’t scream.
She swiped at her tears. “Liora? What are you doing out? What if someone sees you?”
     My anger softened at her concern, until I remembered that she was the reason I was out in the first place. “I might ask you the same questions. If Father had come home and found you missing, he’d have killed you.”
     “And what if he goes home and finds both of us missing? Have you considered that?”
I opened my mouth to scold her, but she was right. “You can explain what you were doing once we get back,” I said.
     In typical Mina fashion, she stuck her tongue out at me, then turned and ran toward home.
* * *

     We were indeed lucky. We made it home not long before Father and Adelle. By the time he came to our room to check on us, we were both in bed. I waved sleepily at him and Mina let out an emphatic snore, but once the door was closed, I threw back my covers and leaped out of bed.
     “I hope you have a good explanation for this,” I hissed.
     Her voice was muffled by the thick blanket pulled up to her nose, but I could hear the tremor in it when she said, “I thought Luc liked me.”
     “And I thought you were dead!” I whisper-shouted, then stalked to the window ledge to keep myself from throttling her. I plucked a pendant from the collar of my nightgown, running my fingers over the five points on the star charm to calm myself. Evran had given it to me, years ago, and its contours were as familiar to me now as the feel of his hand in mine as he pulled me through the Sylvan woods toward home at twilight. Perhaps I was being too hard on Mina. I would risk a lot of things for Evran.
     “Luc told me he was having a party tonight,” she said. “I didn’t realize how late it was when I got there. Everyone else had already left.”
     I was surprised that the thought of her getting ready for a party, the excitement she must have felt as she sneaked into Sylvan to meet a handsome young man, made me more envious than angry. “I heard you cry out.”
     The whites of her eyes flashed in the dark.
     “Don’t you dare roll your eyes at me,” I snapped.
     “I’m just stretching them, Ora.” The world-weary tone was classic Mina: so eager to be a grown-up, ever since she was little. “A moth got tangled in my hair. Anyway, Luc was a perfect gentleman. And as it turns out, it’s not me he wants.”
     The silk was for me. The last of my anger waned as I imagined how sure Mina must have been of Luc to do something so foolish, only to find she’d made a huge mistake. This was his fault as much as it was hers. “He was just being kind because I spend so much money in his shop.”
     She snorted. “He spoke about you the entire time. He asked why you hadn’t come to the party, and what you liked to do in your free time, and why he never saw you out in town.”
     “What did you tell him?” I dropped the pendant into my collar and pulled back the edge of the curtain just a bit to gaze at the real stars.
     “I told him you were making me a dress, that that’s what you’re doing most of the time.”
I sighed and let the curtain fall. For a girl with glowing skin, I sounded unbearably dull. But it was the truth. If I wasn’t sewing, I was cooking, cleaning, or rereading one of our few books.
     Father trusted me enough to let me go out on sunny days now. The smallest stars don’t shine at noon, he said, and my glow could be kept dim as long as I stayed in control of my emotions. But the downside of having even just a little bit of freedom was that it came with responsibilities. Father had only given me permission to go to town for errands, never to dawdle, which made taking Mina along particularly frustrating. She had made an art form out of window-shopping. I missed my afternoons in the woods with Evran, those glorious days when I could sneak out unnoticed while Father was working and my sisters were in their lessons.
     I climbed back into bed and pulled the covers up, a wave of guilt washing over me. Had I really believed Mina was in mortal peril? Because if not, there was no excuse for my own behavior. What if some part of me had risked going out tonight because I wanted to prove to myself, finally, that my magic wasn’t as dangerous as Father feared?
     If that was the case, I had failed spectacularly. It had only taken a few minutes for me to undo all our years of hard work, and I couldn’t blame my sister for that.
     “Promise me you won’t sneak out again, Mina. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you.”
     She twisted onto her side to face me. “I’m sorry. I should never have put you at risk like that. I won’t do it again.”
     “It’s all right. Get some sleep now.”
     Mina responded a moment later with a very genuine snore.
     I smiled and tried to fall asleep myself, but I lay awake for hours, thinking about Margana. Would she tell Darius about me, potentially destroying not just my life but those of everyone I loved? I thought of Father and wondered if all this time it hadn’t been me he was protecting, but them.
     Because as much as I had wanted to believe that the invisible beast was out there, that if I simply hid myself away like a secret, we would be safe, I had known for quite some time that the beast Father feared most lived inside of me.


Mara Rutherford began her writing career as a journalist but quickly discovered she far preferred fantasy to reality. Originally from California, Mara has since lived all over the world with her marine-turned-diplomat husband. A triplet born on Leap Day, Mara holds a master's degree in cultural studies from the University of London. When she's not writing or chasing after her two sons, she can usually be found pushin_g the boundaries of her comfort zone, whether at a traditional Russian banya or an Incan archaeological site. Mara is a former Pitch Wars mentee and three-time mentor.

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LuminousLuminous by Mara Rutherford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Crown of Coral and Pearl series is one of my favorites fantasy series in the last couple of years, so when I saw this new offering from Mara Rutherford, I jumped at the chance to read it. If you take the fact that I'm a huge fan of this author's writing out of the equation, the synopsis and gorgeous cover would have hooked me alone. Immediate points for originality. A heroine with luminous skin that has magic that she doesn't know how to harness and must hide from a corrupt, powerful warlock? I was all in.

My entire life revolved around my glowing skin 
and the fear that the kingdom’s most powerful 
warlock would discover it. 
Lord Darius was employed by the king himself, 
gathering mages and 
torturing them if they didn’t do his bidding.

Liora has been laying low with her father and sisters in the small town of Sylvan. Her father once held a high position at court, but left in order to protect her from Darius, the man who controlled the King and uses mages to acquire their power. There is a variety of special abilities by those who have magic such as teleportation, "weaving" things into creation, fire starting, and the ability to see in the darkness. However, there didn't seem to be an actual magic system as mainly we were just told that some inherently had magic and some didn't. The magic needed to be activated somehow and everybody's abilities were varying degrees in strength. There wasn't a complicated list of rules or an elaborate backstory to how the magic in the world came to be. So if you are a reader who likes simple fantasy without all of these things this could be the perfect book for you. For me personally, I would have appreciated some more detail. It didn't have to be intricate world building, just enough to bring me more firmly inside the story.

Liora has been sheltered from the world by her father for a long time, so she is a bit naive at times, but you can't fault her bravery. She frequently disregards her own safety in order to protect her loved ones. Whether it's her best friend Evran or her sister Mina, she puts herself in harms way in life or death situations in order to try to save them. However, because of being sheltered, she often seems a tad reckless in her actions. She has absolutely no knowledge of what she is capable of magically because she thinks she is a danger to other people and doesn't try to learn. But secretly...she wishes to see more outside of the four walls of her home. To explore the side of herself that must always be kept hidden, to understand herself completely. After she begins working for Evran's mother the weaver, she discovers that those closest to her have been keeping more secrets than she could have imagined. Is she strong enough to set to rights what Lord Darius has set in motion without destroying her only chance of happiness with the boy who holds her heart?

  Through Margana, I was beginning to see 
how magic could be a force of 
creation and destruction, 
of good and evil.

This was an original fantasy and it was easy to immerse myself in, but there was something missing for me in the heroine. I tried to put my finger on where she felt lacking and I felt that it was almost as if she was a secondary character in her own book. It's not that I disliked her, but she failed to make me feel much concern over her situation or even anticipation for the romance subplot. As well, the ending was a little dissatisfying because it ended quite abruptly without showing the resolution to a twist that occurred in the final chapters.

If you're looking for a fantasy standalone that's very straightforward without a complex magic system, this could be the book you're looking for. This wasn't my favorite by this author, but as always I loved her writing style and look forward to seeing what she has to offer next.



Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Review: The Duchess Hunt by Lorraine Heath

New York Times bestselling author Lorraine Heath continues her Once Upon a Dukedom series with this lush love story of a duke who discovers what he desires in a wife may not be what he needs...

Series: Once Upon a Dukedom #2
Publication date: September 28, 2021
Published by: Avon Romance
Genre: historical romance

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Hugh Brinsley-Norton, the Duke of Kingsland, is in need of a duchess. However, restoring the dukedom—left in ruins by his father—to its former glory demands all his time, with little room for sentiment. He places an advert encouraging the single ladies of the ton to write why they should be the one chosen, and leaves it to his efficient secretary to select his future wife.

If there exists a more unpleasant task in the world than deciding who is to marry the man you love, Penelope Pettypeace certainly can’t imagine what it might be. Still, she is determined to find the perfect bride for her clueless, yet ruthlessly charming employer.

But when an anonymous note threatens to reveal truths best hidden, Kingsland has no choice but to confront the danger with Penelope at his side. Beguiled by the strong-willed, courageous beauty, he realizes he’s willing to risk everything, including his heart, to keep her safe within his arms. Could it be the duchess he’s hunting for has been in front of him all along?

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Praise for Lorraine Heath:

“Heath opens her Once Upon a Dukedom series with a satisfying, character-driven Victorian romance... a promising spin-off.”  -- Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Scoundrel of My Heart

“Heath is known for her beautiful, deeply emotional romances.”  -- Washington Post

“This Sins for All Seasons series finale is full of heart.”  -- Kirkus Reviews on Beauty Tempts the Beast

“Heath concludes her Sins for All Seasons series...with a true treat of a Victorian romance... when Althea asks Beast for lessons in seduction, their already simmering chemistry comes to a boil. Heath may have saved the best for last.”  -- Publishers Weekly on Beauty Tempts the Beast

"Heath has crafted a love story dedicated to the inherent romanticism of books; she understands the sensual, comforting, compassionate appeal of books, reading, and those that treasure them. The Earl Takes a Fancy possesses all her usual skill for devising romance, but more potently, it also celebrates a more deep-seated emotion and sense of connection familiar to any bookworm." -- Entertainment Weekly


Lorraine Heath has always had a soft spot for emotional love stories. No doubt because growing up, watching movies with her mom, she was taught that the best movies "won't half make you cry."​​​​​​​

She is the daughter of a British beauty (her mom won second place in a beauty contest sponsored by Max Factor® during which she received a kiss from Caesar Romero, (the Joker on the original Batman TV series) and a Texan who was stationed at Bovingdon while serving in the air force. Lorraine was born in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, but soon after moved to Texas. Her "dual" nationality has given her a love for all things British and Texan, and she enjoys weaving both heritages through her stories.

When she received her BA degree in psychology from the University of Texas, she had no idea she had gained a foundation that would help her to create believable characters—characters that are often described as “real people.” She began her career writing training manuals and computer code for the IRS, but something was always missing. When she read a romance novel, she became not only hooked on the genre, but quickly realized what her writing lacked: rebels, scoundrels, and rogues. She's been writing about them ever since. Her novels have been recognized with numerous industry awards and have appeared on bestseller lists, including ​​​​​​​USA TODAY and the New York Times.

The author of more than 60 novels, she writes historical and contemporary romance for adults and historical romance for teen readers. Under the names Rachel Hawthorne and Jade Parker, she writes popular contemporary, historical, and paranormal r​​omance for teens readers. She also writes young adult novels with her son under the name J. A. London.

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The Duchess Hunt (Once Upon a Dukedom, #2)The Duchess Hunt by Lorraine Heath
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If there existed a more 
unpleasant task in the world 
than selecting the woman who 
was to marry the man you loved, 
Penelope Pettypeace 
certainly couldn’t imagine 
what it might be.

Sometimes you open up a book and the very first line of the book is so attention grabbing that you're immediately compelled to read more. I experienced that with The Duchess Hunt and continued to be pulled in the deeper I went. Likewise, I was intrigued by both main characters from the start.

Hugh was shrewd, intense, a bit aloof, but far from cold. He was an enlightened man for that time because he had no qualms about hiring a female as his right-hand woman. Not only that, but he views at her as his equal in intelligence and competency. Getting into his inner thoughts early on, you notice that after eight years of working closely together, he's more intrigued by her than he allows himself to acknowledge. He frequently pulls himself back from his awareness of her as a woman, mainly because of the power dynamic between the two of them, and that caused a tug of war between his heart and his head. I really enjoyed the angst as it built in momentum during his inner struggle. What was funny was that his latent feelings for her were glaringly obvious to not only the reader, but his mother and closest friends as well. The only one who seemed to be in the dark (or denial) for much of the book was the hero. Penelope was aware of her own feelings, but completely unaware of his. 

Blast her impertinent heart. 
Why did it always have to 
leap with joy whenever 
her gaze fell on him? 
Why did it have to yearn for 
what it could never possess?

If Penelope Pettypeace had any inkling that the Duke who employed her had any feelings for her other than professional, she just might have run. Though she has been secretly in love with the man for years, she isn't really the person who allows herself to get close to people because of her past. She's a very private person who has been burned badly because of the secret she holds, which ironically could be the thing that sparked Hugh's curiosity to look at her more than surface deep. She has an air of mystery about her that presents an appealing puzzle to a man like him. 

The more he unveiled, 
the more curious he became. 
He was desperate to know everything. 
She’d always been an important part of the 
business side of his life, but it seemed 
at some point today a shift 
had occurred in his world, 
and he could no longer 
relegate her to only a portion of it.

Hugh is an investor, problem solver and astute businessman. The fact that he has known Pettypeace for so long and knows very little personal information about her makes him appreciate even the smallest insight as a gift. And the way he secretly craved being able to make her smile and laugh was the sweetest. It was these small details that made me root for the two of them and feel that they were made for each other. As well, it was refreshing to read a romance where the couple was so similar in personality rather than complete opposites.

They were both on the same wave length to the point that they could even finish each other's sentences and anticipate what the other would want or need. He put his complete trust in her abilities to handle his business empire if he had to travel in search of new opportunities. More importantly, he believed that she knew him so well, that she could even handle the tedious task of finding him a suitable wife better than he could. I will say that once the two of them started to explore their interest in each other a little bit, it felt a bit odd that they continued their discussions of her quest in finding him a wife. They were being a bit willfully ignorant about reality. The reality was that he was behaving jealously at the thought of her dancing with another man, he was possessive, and protective over her when she got sick. Then he would turn those thoughts off like a light switch and pretend that everything was casual until his permanent partner was found.

They both also had very big secrets that they held back from sharing with each other for the majority of the book. Once his secret came out, I'm not going to lie, it made me uncomfortable. I couldn't quite wrap my head around how this was so casually explained away because to me, I think there needed to be something much more drastic pushing Hugh to do something like that. Up until this point, the book was easily five stars, but this plot point did detract from my enjoyment. Then Penelope's secret was outed and while is was quite tragic, my sympathy wasn't completely there for her because she continued hiding it from him until the bitter end. I understand the shame that went along with it but there was a lack of trust on her part that was disappointing after he opened up to her with his massive secret.

The chemistry and drawn out anticipation over this couple made this romance really enjoyable for the most part. While there were some issues I had with the plot, the dynamic between Hugh and Penelope made up for a lot. I also really liked the detail that Lorraine Heath put into the epilogue, and thought it was an interesting way to close the story. If you're looking for a historical romance that's a little different from the common opposites attract, this could be the right book for you.


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Thursday, August 26, 2021

Review: A Terrible Fall of Angels by Laurell K. Hamilton

Angels walk among us, but so do other unearthly beings in this brand new series by #1 New York Times Bestselling author Laurell K. Hamilton.

Series: Zaniel Havelock #1
Publication date: August 17, 2021
Published by: Berkley
Genre: paranormal, fantasy

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Meet Detective Zaniel Havelock, a man with the special ability to communicate directly with angels. A former trained Angel speaker, he devoted his life to serving both the celestial beings and his fellow humans with his gift, but a terrible betrayal compelled him to leave that life behind. Now he’s a cop who is still working on the side of angels. But where there are angels, there are also demons. There’s no question that there’s evil at work when he’s called in to examine the murder scene of a college student—but is it just the evil that one human being can do to another, or is it something more? When demonic possession is a possibility, even angelic protection can only go so far. The race is on to stop a killer before he finds his next victim, as Zaniel is forced to confront his own very personal demons, and the past he never truly left behind.

The first in a new series from the author of the Anita Blake and Merry Gentry series.

Purchase your copy now!
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PHOTO CREDIT: Ma Petite Enterprises

Laurell K. Hamilton is one of the leading writers of paranormal fiction. A #1 New York Times bestselling author, Hamilton writes the popular Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novels and the Meredith Gentry series. She is also the creator of a bestselling comic book series based on her Anita Blake novels and published by Marvel Comics. Hamilton is a full-time writer and lives in the suburbs of St. Louis with her family.

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A Terrible Fall of Angels (Zaniel Havelock, #1)A Terrible Fall of Angels by Laurell K. Hamilton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I just finished a four hundred page information dump on demons, angels, witches, spirit guides, animal guides, guardian angels, a baba yaga descendant, a voodoo priest, a "remote viewer," different specialties in the College of Angels, and abrupt, abstract descriptions of otherworldly interactions in the heavenly realm. As you would imagine, I'm feeling just little bit mentally exhausted after such a marathon of data. There was a slew of characters from Zaniel's past at the College of Angels, there was another huge set of police force characters-and if that wasn't enough, some of the characters had three different names. (Zaniel couldn't even get his best friend's name straight for the life of him.) So in other words, there was so much to compute that my brain is feeling a little numb right now. I'm going to try to sum things up as concisely and clearly as possible.

This was my first read by this author so I have nothing to compare this new series to. I've always been curious about Ms. Hamilton's work because of the popularity of her Anita Blake books. However, as a blogger I just didn't have the time to attempt an established 28 book series when I have so many ARC obligations on my plate. That's why I jumped at the chance to try out her new Zaniel Havelock series. My first impression here was that she's a big fan of detail. Normally that's a good thing to have intricate world building in urban fantasy. In this case, it was on the opposite side of the spectrum from "too little, too late." There were supernatural lessons like these littered through every chapter- even in the middle of character building, internal dialogue.

“Infernals take on the appearances of the human imagination nearest them,” Charleston said. “What?” Miller asked. 

“What he said,” the female security guard said. 

“It means they look like what the nearest human thinks they should look like, but they won’t appear in their true Hellish form, not here on Earth, except maybe for a second, then it changes,” I said. I didn’t add that a second could be enough for insanity or death for the human seeing it, but our minds protected us from so much, including demons. If a person could survive that second, then what they thought changed what they saw; demons used it to appear as our worst nightmares, but even that was usually less soul-destroying then the demon’s original form.

You take your time to get a good grasp on what is being explained, but the problem is that the infernal creature committing murders in the central mystery plot breaks all the rules in the rulebook. So this thing has abilities that contradict everything we've been told and by the end of the book, there was only the barest hint of why that could be. I understand that this is the introduction to a very long series and we should expect things to be drawn out far into the future, but I felt that the purpose of this book was to simply teach us who the characters were and begin to explain the world they live in. There were many different plot arcs such as Zaniel's marriage difficulties, his friend Levanael's mental illness recovery, his mysterious past affair with a Seraphim, the events that broke his faith in the college of angels, and attempting to piece together the mystery of the demon possessed/merged Cookson. The plot was so erratic, jumping from one point to another, that your attention never truly has time to engage with any one thing. To be frank, my favorite parts of the book were the action sequences where Zaniel was facing off with the demonic being. All of the other parts were often rambling, disjointed scenes stuck together.

For instance, why was Kate introduced? She is supposed to be from the lineage of a russian folklore witch called Baba Yaga. Zaniel seems notably attracted to her (despite his conflicted feelings about putting his family back together). He has an odd wound from her that keeps strangely seeping blood which we're led to believe has some deeper meaning. Then it just heals at the end and nothing ever comes of it. She never enters the story again, and we don't know why the wound behaved that way. Then there's the conflict that occurred with the spirit animal raccoon. We were told that this was a very strange and worrisome thing that the raccoon had been separated from a witch named Ravensong. She and Emily were both so distressed over the matter and then after the climax of the story it was never addressed again. Lila and Adam got only a hint of a romantic connection before disappearing from the story. Then we have the tangled mess of the College of Angels. I can't seem to get a cohesive picture of that place at all.

Zaniel grew up in the College of Angels. For a long time, he believed that he was training for a higher purpose and putting his supernatural gifts with angels to good use. He and his best friends Surrie and Lev were like the three musketeers in the strict religious faction he lived in until he broke away and joined the military. Something happened to severely disillusion him and I sensed that it was caused by the leaders in particular. However, what they were being taught about angels and demons actually seemed valid. Zaniel himself truly has the ability to communicate with angels and yet he feels as if he has just been indoctrinated by the group.

   She was still comfortable and secure in the College of Angels
and everything they taught us there. 
No, not taught, indoctrinated. 
How do you know you’re in a cult? 
You usually don’t until something happens that is so terrible 
you can’t ignore it, or pretend it didn’t happen, 
and then you start questioning everything.

Zaniel is able to withstand holy fire and speak with the higher forms of Celestial beings without dying or going crazy. Surrie helps heal people who are demon touched-once again, a true ability. She's even called in as a consultant for one of Zaniel's jobs on the force. And yet, the college is classified as a cult by Zaniel and the rest of society. There was even a Netflix documentary about their cult-like practice of recruiting children and then permanently keeping them from their parents. Why would the police force recruit help from a cult? That would be like recruiting a Scientologist even though its been established that they are brainwashed at best and criminals at worst. The definition of a cult is a religious sect considered to be extremist or false. Most of the time led by one charismatic or deranged leader. Holding the kids captive fits, the extreme rules forced on the members, the disassociation from members who leave...they fit. So then why are they teaching them legitimate skills rooted in truth? Why did Zaniel feel loyalty towards the "masters" at the College when they very clearly failed his friend and ruined his mind for over a decade? I was baffled as to why he seemed to be defending them when Levanael confided in him that they played a large role in his tragic break from reality. It didn't begin to come together for me.

“So, you are no longer Christian,” she said. 
“I am still a follower of Christ.” 
“How is that different from being Christian?” she asked. 
“I find organized religion difficult to deal with.”

Again, I get that there will be many books to come in the series that will potentially shed some light on all of my questions and inconsistencies. I just don't know if I am suitably invested in our hero Zaniel enough to wade any deeper into these murky waters. I felt like he was a good guy for the most part, but I didn't get a full grasp of what shaped him to be who he is now. And by the time book two comes around, the characters and plot points will need to be refreshed in my mind all over again. If you love complex stories and paranormal series with very detailed world building this could very well be the book for you. Unfortunately, this one was just okay for me so I think I may have to throw in the towel here.


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Review: I'm Only Wicked with You by Julie Anne Long

USA Today bestselling author Julie Anne Long continues her Palace of Rogues series with a brand-new romance about an ambitious American and a headstrong British heiress.

Series: The Palace of Rogues #3
Publication date: August 24, 2021
Published by: Avon Romance
Genre: historical romance

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He's the battle-hardened son of a bastard, raised in the wilds of New York. She's the sheltered, blue-blooded darling of the London broadsheets, destined to marry a duke. Their worlds could only collide in a boardinghouse by the London docks...and when they do, the sparks would ignite all of England.

Nothing can stop Hugh Cassidy's drive to build an American empire...unless it's his new nemesis, the arrogant, beautiful, too-clever-by-half Lady Lillias Vaughn. The fascination is mutual. The temptation is merciless. And the inevitable indiscretion? Soul-searing—and the ruination of them both. Hugh's proposal salvages Lillias' honor but kills their dreams for their futures...until they arrive at a plan that could honorably set them free.

But unraveling their entanglement inadvertently uncovers enthralling truths: about Lillias' wounded, tender heart and fierce spirit. About Hugh's stunning gentleness, depth, and courage. Soon, Hugh knows that as surely as he'd fight a thousand battles to win her...the best way to love Lillias means breaking his own heart.

Purchase your copy now!
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Praise for Julie Anne Long:

“Julie Ann Long reinvents the historical romance for modern readers.”  -- Amanda Quick

"Long finds that delectable sweet spot with Angel in a Devil’s Arms, welcoming us all to the cozy warmth of the Grand Palace on the Thames with the peculiar blend of humor and pathos she writes with such aplomb."
-- Entertainment Weekly

“Deploying her usual perfectly calibrated mix of irresistibly dry wit and superbly nuanced characterization, RITA Award-winning Long adds another winner to her Palace of Rogues series with this lushly sensual, exquisitely emotional, and gracefully written tale about two people desperately trying not to fall in love with each other.” -- Booklist (starred review) for Angel in a Devil’s Arms

“Delightful...refreshing. Readers will enjoy this rich depiction of how the past informs but does not dictate the future.”  -- Publishers Weekly for Angel in a Devil’s Arms

“Sparkling banter, deep character insights, and a colorful supporting cast bring a clever scheme to life, setting up a series to savor. Historical readers will rejoice with Long’s return to the subgenre and will be intrigued by hints of the next 'Rogues' title.” -- Library Journal (starred review, editor’s pick), on Lady Derring Takes a Lover

“Julie Anne long is a fantastic writer.” -- New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz


Well, where should I start? I've lived in San Francisco for more than a decade, usually with at least one cat. I won the school spelling bee when I was in 7th grade; the word that clinched it was 'ukulele.' I originally set out to be a rock star when I grew up (I had a Bono fixation, but who didn't?), and I have the guitars and the questionable wardrobe stuffed in the back of my closet to prove it.

But writing was always my first love. 

I was editor of my elementary school paper (believe it or not, Mrs. Little's fifth grade class at Glenmoor Elementary did have one); my high school paper (along with my best high school bud, Cindy Jorgenson); and my college paper, where our long-suffering typesetter finally forced me to learn how to typeset because my articles were usually late (and thus I probably have him to thank for all the desktop publishing jobs that ensued over the years).

Won a couple of random awards along the way: the Bank of America English Award in High School (which basically just amounted to a fancy plaque saying that I was really, really good at English); and an award for best Sports Feature article in a College Newspaper (and anyone who knows me well understands how deeply ironic that is). I began my academic career as a Journalism major; I switched to Creative Writing, which was a more comfortable fit for my freewheeling imagination and overdeveloped sense of whimsy. I dreamed of being a novelist.

But most of us, I think, tend to take for granted the things that come easily to us. I loved writing and all indications were that I was pretty good at it, but I, thank you very much, wanted to be a rock star. Which turned out to be ever-so-slightly harder to do than writing. A lot more equipment was involved, that's for sure. Heavy things, with knobs. It also involved late nights, fetid, graffiti-sprayed practice rooms, gorgeous flakey boys, bizarre gigs, in-fighting—what's not to love?

But my dream of being a published writer never faded. When the charm (ahem) of playing to four people in a tiny club at midnight on a Wednesday finally wore thin, however, I realized I could incorporate all the best things about being in a band — namely, drama, passion, and men with unruly hair — into novels, while at the same time indulging my love of history and research. 

So I wrote The Runaway Duke, sent it to a literary agent (see the story here), who sold it to Warner Books a few months after that...which made 2003 one of the most extraordinary, head-spinning years I've ever had. 

Why romance? Well, like most people, I read across many genres, but I've been an avid romance reader since I got in trouble for sneaking a Rosemary Rogers novel out of my mom's nightstand drawer (I think it was Sweet Savage Love). Rosemary Rogers, Kathleen Woodiwiss, Laurie McBain...I cut my romance teeth on those ladies. And in general, I take a visceral sort of pleasure in creating a hero and a heroine, putting them through their emotional paces, and watching their relationship develop on the page. And of course, there's much to be said for the happy ending. :) 

And why Regency Historicals? Well, for starters, I think we can blame Jane Austen. Her inimitable wit, compassion and vision brought the Regency vividly to life for generations of readers. If Jane Austen had written romances about Incas, for instance, I think, we'd have racks and racks of Inca romances in bookstores all over the country, and Warner Forever would be the Inca Romance line.

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I'm Only Wicked With You (The Palace of Rogues, #3)I'm Only Wicked With You by Julie Anne Long
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This series to date has been one resounding success after another. Instead of losing my enthusiasm just a little bit with each new book, I only fall in love with the Grand Palace on the Thames and all of its inhabitants more each time. The charm of the quirky boarders like Mr. Delacorte, the proprietresses' atypical friendship and their equally unexpected love matches, and the quick-witted banter between the main characters are just a few things that make me greedily coming back for more. And while some things feel familiar, they aren't so much so that they become stale. Julie Anne Long managed to give this book a completely fresh feel with these main characters. The first half of the book was spent primarily in the boarding house where hilarity and verbal sparring always ensues. Then we got to venture into Lady Lillias' world of privilege as she made sense of society's expectations and where she truly fit in the world in order to find her HEA. The themes of social disparity, classism, duty vs. passion, and a love triangle square kept me hooked until the very end.

Both the hero and heroine believed themselves to be in love with someone else when they met each other. That could have easily gone very wrong, but the transition of their affection never felt too abrupt or unnatural. I think that can be attributed to the work the author put into showing the reader how they fell-despite the odds stacked against them. Not telling us. There was no insta-love to be found, and no epiphany of love switch that was flipped. The characters work for it, and in doing so, the reader reaps all of the rewards.

Lillias is nursing a broken heart, and Hugh is in London to hunt down the missing woman he has his fragile heart set on. Neither are open to romance when they meet, but from day one they sparked competitive friction off of one another.

    Mr. Cassidy, she realized, always came out fighting. 
Which she supposed was flattering: 
it was a measure of the sort of adversary he saw in her.

It becomes like a game to them to properly fluster the other with sexual innuendoes and wordplay. Yes, they had an unsettling physical reaction to each other, but that inconvenient fact keeps getting compartmentalized in a nice and tidy box. Closed tightly, and tied up with a bow. Perhaps not as tightly as they imagine.

Lillias is a the dutiful daughter of the Earl and Countess of Vaughn, but lately, a bit of a rebel. When she met Hugh in the previous book, she was defiantly smoking one of her father's cigars. Then there was that time she climbed up to the top of the tower of her church and rang the bell just for giggles. She's lived her life in society's highest echelon. She looks the part, she plays the part, but she never really FIT the part. If she felt that her suiters' affections were artificial and her value in that world purely making an advantageous match, she tends to not acknowledge that. Her world is familiar, and there's a measure of comfort in that. Hugh Cassidy is everything unfamiliar and inscrutable to her. He's a man who came from nothing and paved his own way in the world. He sees things through a different lens than her and helps her to see the world with a clarity that she never has before.

    He had cracked her open in ways she had not expected 
and did not welcome, and all the things she truly was
were emerging. If she were honest, 
she knew the cracks had begun before he’d even arrived.

When Hugh isn't working to get a rise out of her, he isn't giving much of himself away. He's seen death on the battlefield and the lost his father and brother. He keeps his feelings close to his chest and uses his smile like a weapon. What he doesn't let show is that he yearns to build a real home, his own family, and an empire that will provide for them and at the same time make a real difference in the world. He has a smart business mind, and grand ambitions in politics back in America. He thought that the woman he went to England to find was the one who would fit into all of his well crafted plans. So why is he affected mind, body, and soul by the exasperating Lady Lillias?

    She wasn’t to know that she’d stopped his breath 
then and any number of times since, 
which meant the next breath he took after that 
was like the first one he’d ever drawn. So it was like 
he was being born anew every time he looked at her.

Lillias and Hugh start playing with fire. What harm could come from exploring a little passion together? A lot it turns out. Both of their expectations for the future go up in a pretty impressive ball of flames. As often found in historical romance, they're busted being...indiscreet shall we say? Hugh does the honorable thing and they're now trapped in circumstances that they can't see a way out of.

She was no safer than opium. 
Opium only led to disaster. 
And what was this if not a disaster?

I had to admire the hell out of Hugh for never resenting Lillias at this point or any other. He didn't take out his frustration out on her and he admitted his share of the responsibility. He never took advantage of her attraction to him when she was vulnerable. He was a true gentleman in every respect more so than how the upper class defined the word. There was so much to love about him and to root for. I could only imagine how unmoored he felt when he discovered Lillias' secret affection for her childhood friend just as they were growing closer. Once again, he behaved with total respect towards her and ultimately put her happiness above his own wants time and again. Love is making sacrifice even when it hurts and he illustrated that so beautifully.

One of the things I really appreciated was that Lillias' parents weren't the clichè greedy parents looking to sell their daughter. I know that's an accurate depiction of the culture at the time for the most part, but it gets a little repetitive when reading the same conflict in the genre. Her parents did want a titled match, but they weren't evil caricatures. They truly cared about their kids and their happiness even if they had certain expectations that they expected them to fulfill. They weren't paragons of progressive virtue, they had realistic prejudices and entitled attitudes, but when it counted they made the right choices to look out for their daughter.

The last 5-6 chapters made me emotionally wrung out. Between the absolutely gorgeous writing of Julie Anne Long that made my heart drop and soar from one moment from the next, and the angst I felt for this beautiful couple fighting for their forever, I didn't want the story to end. My eyes were watery and my heart was bursting with happiness as they finally fit everything perfectly in place. And the epilogue! I couldn't wipe the silly grin off of my face. I adored this book! I didn't think anything could top the last book, but I'm Only Wicked with You has managed the impossible task. If you haven't started the series yet, I'm not sure what you're waiting for. You absolutely need these books in your life.