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, January 26, 2021

Review: The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Public radio co-hosts navigate mixed signals in Rachel Lynn Solomon's sparkling romantic comedy debut.

Series: Standalone
Publication date: January 26, 2021
Published by: Berkley
Genre: contemporary romance

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Shay Goldstein has been a producer at her Seattle public radio station for nearly a decade, and she can't imagine working anywhere else. But lately it's been a constant clash between her and her newest colleague, Dominic Yun, who's fresh off a journalism master's program and convinced he knows everything about public radio.

When the struggling station needs a new concept, Shay proposes a show that her boss green-lights with excitement. On The Ex Talk, two exes will deliver relationship advice live, on air. Their boss decides Shay and Dominic are the perfect co-hosts, given how much they already despise each other. Neither loves the idea of lying to listeners, but it's this or unemployment. Their audience gets invested fast, and it's not long before The Ex Talk becomes a must-listen in Seattle and climbs podcast charts.

As the show gets bigger, so does their deception, especially when Shay and Dominic start to fall for each other. In an industry that values truth, getting caught could mean the end of more than just their careers.

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Rachel Lynn Solomon writes, tap dances, and collects lipstick in Seattle, Washington. Her romance and YA novels include Today Tonight Tomorrow, The Ex Talk (1/26/21), and We Can't Keep Meeting Like This (6/1/21). Once she helped set a Guinness World Record for the most natural redheads in one place.

Her short story "Aftershocks" appears in the anthology It's a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories.

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The Ex TalkThe Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I really wanted to love this book and based on the rave reviews I thought my odds were promising. Unfortunately I struggled to find things I even liked about it, let alone loved. The fake relationship trope is a common theme in romance and has worked for me on occasion in the past. In this case the way it was applied in the plot was gross-irredeemably gross. The story centers around a radio show producer (Shay) and an investigative journalist (Dominic) who are offered a job co-hosting a new show all about dating. Pretty standard fare. Except these two co-hosts are exes giving relationship advice. Great twist if it were real, but it's a complete and utter sham.

Dominic is a journalist (with a master's degree!) described as having "do-gooder morals." On his very first job, he's convinced to chuck his integrity aside for a paycheck. The idea of making up a fake relationship, invented dates, details, and all to sell to their unsuspecting listeners as truth doesn't sit well with him, but hey, it's only for six months so they can get hosting experience. Where's the harm, amiright? The alternative would be getting fired and struggling until he found something else. He is fresh out of school (with a master's degree!) so his resume is sadly lacking. Clearly passing off a fabricated broken relationship in which he is forced to spin a tornado of lies every day is preferable. I have to give him credit-he did say no at first. It took a little cajoling from Shay to get him on board. During this time, they both knew that there would be imminent layoffs, most notably the woman Shay worked with for the last ten years. Did Shay give this woman or her other co-workers a warning that they were about to get the axe?

    Kent breaks the news to Paloma, Ruthie, and Griffin on Monday, 
and I pretend I’m hearing it for the first time.

Yet again, more than a little deceptive and she doesn't have a twinge of conscience. Both Shay and Dominic feel ashamed about their fake show so they lie to their families as well. Anytime you can't even tell your family the truth about your life, you know you're making the wrong choices. So they start the show, and the author presents the on-air scenes as "transcripts" of their dialogue. I thought this was a unique way to insert it, as if you're reading a script. Then again, it IS scripted. Even their argumentative dynamic. You see, in the beginning of the book their biting exchanges were real because Shay resented his meteoric success at the station. By the time they aired their first show, they were already friendly with one another. So literally nothing about The Ex Talk was real. This is how they introduced their story to listeners:

Shay Goldstein: [...]I'm Shay Goldstein, and this is The Ex Talk, a brand-new show from Pacific Public Radio. Thanks for joining us. We're coming to you live from Seattle, or if you're listening by podcast, somewhere in the somewhat recent past. Full honesty:[...]I've been a producer at the station for ten years, and Dominic's been working as a reporter since October. Which is around the time we started dating. And earlier this year, we broke up.

The show screams unethical, but based on the rave reviews I guess that's not an issue for others. As the book wears on, Shay's guilty conscience bites her in the ass. These moments are brief and quickly brushed aside with flimsy justifications.

    This is only how it begins, I try to convince myself. 
We’re telling a story. That’s what radio is. 
The show will grow beyond our story—it has to. 
It’s the only way I can stomach our lie.

Shay has started to feel attraction towards Dominic (who has a master's degree!) Are you wondering why I'm being annoying about his degree? On the show, they do a "fun" game where Dominic has to put five dollars in a jar every time he mentions his lofty Northwestern master's degree. He ends up owing $25 by the end of the first week. This is even with him resisting other employees trying to bait him into saying it. Eventually he racks up enough to write a donation check to Illinois University. Is there anything more obnoxious than someone with no humility who needs to brag about their higher education 5+ times a week? That's just unbelievably tacky. I'm not kidding, he even mentions it during their first sex scene.

Once Shay and Dominic really start to have strong feelings for each other, Shay is torn on what to do. Her friend suggests that they pretend they "got back together" so they can have an open relationship.

    “The whole point of the show is that we used to date, 
and that our breakup was amicable enough for us to host it together. 
“So maybe you got back together.” Lies on top of lies. 
“It wouldn’t work,” I say. “You know how I get in relationships. 
How much of a nightmare would it be if I somehow fell for him, 
and he didn’t feel the same way, 
and we were stuck still hosting the show together?”

So let me get this straight. If they were to announce their true feelings for one another...they might break up...and have to do the show together...as exes. ISN'T THAT THE ACTUAL PREMISE OF THE SHOW? *throws hands up in the air* It gets more and more fake the deeper you delve into this.

More cringeworthiness: One day a listener calls in and he's done some social media investigating. Turns out that Shay made a mistake and left a clue on Facebook that she was using a dating app when she was supposed to have been with Dominic. What follows is unapologetic, self-righteous, gaslighting to shut the caller up.

    “Look, John,” Dominic says. 
“You can find any piece of someone’s social media history 
and use it to prove whatever agenda you have. 
We’ve seen it happen plenty of times to people 
with much more at stake than Shay and me. 
We’re not here to convince you 
if you’ve already made up your mind about us. 
I can tell you I didn’t go to journalism school 
to tell lies on the radio.”

Maybe he didn't go to school to tell lies, but he's sure doing a bang up job of it.

Eventually the s@#t hits the fan, and the two are outed at a convention. Panic ensues, and Shay scrambles to pacify the outraged fans. Unfortunately she's so scared about the fall out of her decisions, that she's more concerned with (in her words) "controlling the narrative" rather than letting the duped fans vent their feelings of betrayal. Lastly, I can't wrap this up without mentioning the weird scene where Shay and her soon to be step-sister Diana are wildly inappropriate in front of Diana's kids.

“But was he a huge dick where it mattered?” 
“Diana!” Phil says from one end of the table. 
“Your father is here. And there are children present.” 
“Dad. I have, in fact, had sex before.” 
She gestures to her kids. 
“Exactly twice.” More laughter at this.

DID HE HAVE A BIG DICK? DID HE KNOW HOW TO USE IT? *wink wink* Kids! don't play with your food, eat your vegetables. Dad, don't be so uptight. I don't mind visualizing you having sex and you're behind the times if my sexual appetites make you uncomfortable. That's pretty much how that conversation went...seems totally normal.

The resolution is rom-com standard fare. The big, romantic, public apology/profession of feelings/groveling. Kiss, kiss. Happily ever after. I was so disgusted by these characters that I didn't care what happened to them at this point. How do you like characters that are willing to lie to family, co-workers, and the audience who trusts them for months on end? This is a sad commentary on how journalistic integrity is malleable when it's up against the mighty dollar and clicks online. But in the end, the boss was villainized for being sexist so we should focus on that, and not the bad choices the main characters made for the entire book. He was the true bad guy here. I think it's obvious by now that this is not something I particularly enjoyed reading, but I am in the minority by far. So you'll probably want to read it and judge for yourself. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and regretfully this time it's going to be a loss.



Review: The Heiress Gets a Duke by Harper St. George

Even a fortune forged in railroads and steel can't buy entrance into the upper echelons of Victorian high society—for that you need a marriage of convenience.

Series: The Gilded Heiresses #1
Publication date: January 26, 2021
Published by: Berkley
Genre: historical romance

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American heiress August Crenshaw has aspirations. But unlike her peers, it isn't some stuffy British Lord she wants wrapped around her finger—it's Crenshaw Iron Works, the family business. When it's clear that August's outrageously progressive ways render her unsuitible for a respectable match, her parents offer up her younger sister to the highest entitled bidder instead. This simply will not do. August refuses to leave her sister to the mercy of a loveless marriage.

Evan Sterling, the Duke of Rothschild, has no intention of walking away from the marriage. He's recently inherited the title only to find his coffers empty, and with countless lives depending on him, he can't walk away from the fortune a Crenshaw heiress would bring him. But after meeting her fiery sister, he realizes Violet isn't the heiress he wants. He wants August, and he always gets what he wants.

But August won't go peacefully to her fate. She decides to show Rothschild that she's no typical London wallflower. Little does she realize that every stunt she pulls to make him call off the wedding only makes him like her even more.

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Praise for The Heiress Gets a Duke:

“A delightfully entertaining read, rich with romance, glamour, and lush Victorian detail. Harper St. George truly captures the spirt of the era.”—Mimi Matthews, USA Today bestselling author

“The Heiress Gets a Duke is a charming, compulsively readable delight and I can’t wait for the next book from Harper St George’s magical pen!”—Evie Dunmore, USA Today bestselling author

“A sexy, emotional, romantic tale…Harper St. George is a must-buy for me!”—Terri Brisbin, USA Today bestselling author

“Wit, seduction and passion blend seamlessly to create this deeply emotional romance. St. George weaves an intriguing plot with complex characters to provide the perfect sensual escape. There’s nothing I didn’t love about The Heiress Gets a Duke, especially its lush, captivating glimpse into history.”—Anabelle Bryant, USA Today bestselling author

“A fun, fresh historical romance that gives both formidable characters their due.”—Publishers Weekly

“Rich with period detail, The Heiress Gets a Duke brings to life the Gilded Age’s dollar princesses in this smart, sexy, and oh so satisfying story.”—Laurie Benson, award-winning author of The Sommersby Brides series

“You’ll sigh, you’ll cry, and you’ll grin yourself silly as this independent and cynical heiress finally gets her duke.”—Virginia Heath, author of Beguiled at the Wedding

“Fans of Courtney Milan and Scarlett Peckham will enjoy this ‘The Gilded Age Heiresses’ series opener.”—Library Journal


Harper St. George was raised in rural Alabama and along the tranquil coast of northwest Florida. It was a setting filled with stories of the old days that instilled in her a love of history, romance, and adventure. By high school, she had discovered the historical romance novel which combined all of those elements into one perfect package. She has been hooked ever since.

She lives in the Atlanta area with her husband and two children. When not writing, she can be found devouring her husband's amazing cooking and reading. She would love to hear from you.

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The Heiress Gets a Duke (The Gilded Age Heiresses, #1)The Heiress Gets a Duke by Harper St. George
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ladies and gentlemen, I officially found a five star read. *throws confetti* It has been a dry spell to end all dry spells. Three months...not that I was counting. Don't get me wrong, I have had very good reads, but none that I felt enthusiastic enough to give a full five star rating. This book was everything I love about the genre with a romance that made my heart go pitter patter. I appreciated the combination of a wealthy American heroine paired with an impoverished English Duke. The clash in culture, the contrast of their social status and the differences in gender expectations gave this couple a lot of interesting moments.

August was a uniquely independent and intellectual heroine who was given the freedom to work at her father's company back home, but once her parents saw a potential title for the family dangled in front of them, (like the proverbial carrot) they rushed to sell her off faster than you can blink. The Crenshaws are swimming in money thanks to their company Crenshaw Iron Works. Unfortunately new money can't buy access into the world of the highest echelon of society-you have to be born into it.

    As new money, there were many families 
that did not include their name on the guest list. 
August had always known that this was a sore spot 
for her mother, but she had never allowed herself 
to believe that it would come to this.

Evan Sterling, the Duke of Rothschild is currently on the market for a wife just as the Crenshaws visit friends in England. After losing his father and older brother, the Duke inherits the crumbling estate, massive debt, and heavy responsibilities to his family and tenants. Coming to the realization that they are in dire straits, he makes the difficult decision to marry a Crenshaw heiress to save the family from complete ruin. He sacrifices himself not out of greed or laziness, but because he feels it's his only option after all of his other efforts have failed. I liked Evan right off the bat, and that never changed throughout the rest of the story. Even though he held all of the power pretty much from the beginning, he always took August's thoughts and feelings into consideration. He could have forced her to accept everything on his terms, but he chose to learn more about her and what would make her happy.

Originally the "arrangement" had been decided that Evan would marry August's younger sister Violet. Though after meeting August, he's instantly intrigued and attracted. He decides that an arranged marriage won't be so bad if August is going to along for the ride, but she has other ideas. The two of them have a magnificent clash of wills as she tries to wiggle out of the wedding that would bring an end to her happy life as she knows it. She has a good head for math and evaluating potential investments, and this has been not only fulfilling, but given her her own financial freedom. Why in the world would she want to hand over everything she's earned to her husband, her American citizenship, and stop the work that she loves in order to solely take care of her husband's estates? She gets nothing out of the bargain while he gains everything. It's not that she's totally against the concept of marriage, but she wanted it to be later and to a man of her choosing.

In the beginning of the book it seemed that her parents were progressive and loving in the way that they let her have the freedoms she did during that time. We discover later on that they are worse than despicable in their attitude towards both of their daughters. Money and status is placed at a higher priority than their children's happiness. And they never quite grasp the betrayal that they've inflicted on August. I do wish that they would have seen the error of their ways later, but unfortunately that never came to be.

Evan's character was really fleshed out once August and her family visited him at his home. We finally get to dissect his insecurities and heartache which not only made me empathize with him, but it made me love him all the more. Evan had always lived in his brother's shadow as "the spare." He never felt intelligent enough, or worthy enough in his father's eyes. He never resented his brother, in fact, they were very close until his sudden passing. He spent every moment afterwards trying to reverse the damage his father had done to their finances without even allowing himself time to grieve. There was a really sweet moment between August and Evan when he opened himself up to her and left himself very vulnerable. It was a glimpse into the tenderness they could share if she allowed her life to take a new and unexpected direction into marriage.

    There were sun-kissed highlights in her hair, 
and the hazel of her eyes was swirled with grass green. 
Her creamy skin had a glow that showed 
a defiance of parasols. 
From now on when he thought of summer, 
he would think of her.

This was a refreshing historical romance by a new to me author! The plot was tight without any holes or inconsistencies that nagged at me. If I had one constructive criticism it would be that August's brother was sort of two dimensional, but as a brief side character it wasn't all that important. The main component of the story is of course the romance between August and Evan which was in turns enchanting and emotional in all the ways that it should be. The characters were far from perfect but always relatable in a way that makes you care what happens to them, and to me, that's a trademark of a well written book. I'll be so excited to read Violet's story in The Devil and the Heiress next July.



Review: Highland Treasure by Lynsay Sands

A Buchanan brother finds a love to treasure in this scintillating historical romance from New York Times bestselling author Lynsay Sands...

Series: Highland Brides #9
Publication date: January 26, 2021
Published by: Avon
Genre: historical romance

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After escaping from the English soldiers who attacked her home and imprisoned her in a dungeon, Lady Elysande de Valance is grateful for the rugged Scots who are escorting her to safety in the Highlands. Even with danger dogging their every step, she hadn’t expected to welcome the strong comforting embrace of their leader, Rory Buchanan. They say he’s a healer, but she finds the heat of his touch does so much more...

Let his brothers get married—Rory is too busy tending to the sick to be bothered with wooing a bride. But when he is tasked with accompanying a family friend’s “treasure” to the Highlands, he is surprised to learn the treasure is a beautiful woman on the run—and even more surprised to discover bruises hidden by her veil. Rory makes it his mission to tend to her injuries and protect her, but the thought of losing her makes him realize that perhaps it is his heart that is most in need of healing…

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LYNSAY SANDS is the nationally bestselling author who is known for her hysterical historicals as well as the popular Argeneau/Rogue Hunter vampire series. With her witty and charming personality, Sands describes books as, “Waking dreams or stories, tales to amuse, entertain and distract us from everyday life.” She’s been writing stories since grade school and considers herself incredibly lucky to be able to make a career out of it. Her hope is that readers can get away from their everyday stress through her stories, and if there are occasional uncontrollable fits of laughter, that’s just a big bonus.

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Highland Treasure (Highland Brides, #9)Highland Treasure by Lynsay Sands
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Even though this is my first read out of the nine installments in the Highland Brides series, I had no issues with confusion over characters or events. To anyone wondering if this book stands on its own or if there's any piece of storyline that carries over from previous books, you're free to one-click now. I give the author credit for not overwhelming the reader with the large amounts of past characters and solely focusing on the two main characters: Lady Elysande de Valance and Rory Buchanan.

Rory Buchanan is the "healer" of the Highland brothers and is one of the last single men standing. His family has been shamelessly trying to put an end to his bachelorhood by finding eligible women for him, but he has no plans to pursue anyone. He's perfectly happy focusing on his patients and his goal to build his own castle in the near future. After his latest job in caring for Baron Monmouth in England, he's financially set to start making preparations to build. First, he needs to make a quick stop on his way home to Scotland and collect a "treasure" and deliver it to a family friend. He had no idea at the time that this treasure would be a woman who is running for her life and racing against the clock to save the King of England.

Lady Elysande has just survived a family massacre, a brutal beating, and the loss of everything she's ever known. Aided by loyal servants and two knights who survived, she manages to make a narrow escape with information of a treasonous plot to assassinate the King. Elysande shows strength of will and steel determination every step of the way. In my opinion, perhaps a little too unrealistically. We never really see her grieve or suffer much trauma from the harrowing experience that would break even the strongest of individuals-man or woman. She stoically sits on the saddle for days on end while rarely even letting a wince show on her face. There is no breakdown-physical or mental. I'm all for strong female leads, but this is stretching believability a tad thin if I'm being honest. In the beginning, she shows superhuman strength by hiding her pain from her escorts. After her secret is outed, we are given scene after scene where she must replenish the dreaded liniment on her back.

The time devoted to talking about the liniment that she makes and plasters on her back multiple times throughout the day started to bother me. I looked it up. There were 80 mentions of it in the book. After proving how strong she is, we switch to how very badly she needs the numbing cream to get through the day and night. The repetitiveness was a problem. It wasn't just in this one area, but the book as a whole that I felt was leaning towards repetitive. The entire journey that they were on consisted of a laundry list of tasks like: wake up, eat, apply liniment, travel, make camp and sleep, repeat. There was one scene where some conflict and suspense finally happened, but there really wasn't a strong sense of danger.

The romance between Elysande and Rory was based more on physical attraction and his respect for her strength. I liked that they were both healers and when they married would be equals in the medical trade, however I never really saw them develop a natural emotional attachment. Not to say that they didn't make a nice couple, but their story was lacking depth and development. The ending was somewhat anticlimactic in that there wasn't a big showdown with the perpetrator of the assassination plot. I was hoping for some real action to round out the story, but everything wrapped up smoothly without much tension. Having said all that, this wasn't a bad read if you're looking for a light and easy historical romance similar to the writing style of classic Julie Garwood. While it didn't wow me, it was a sweet story with a writing style that I could engage with. 

   You are a man worthy of love.” Tilting her head, she added, “People may need a healer, but they do not love them. They love the man.



Friday, January 22, 2021

Blog Tour with Giveaway and Excerpt: Enjoy the View by Sarah Morgenthaler

A grouchy mountaineer, a Hollywood starlet
And miles of untamed wilderness...
What could possibly go wrong?

Series: Moose Springs, Alaska #3
Publication Date: January 19, 2020 
Genre: contemporary romance
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca

Purchase Links:
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Former Hollywood darling River Lane’s acting career is tanking fast. Determined to start fresh behind the camera, she agrees to film a documentary about the picturesque small town of Moose Springs, Alaska. The assignment should have been easy, but the quirky locals want nothing to do with River. Well, too bad: River’s going to make this film and prove herself, no matter what it takes.
Or what (literal) mountain she has to climb.
Easton Lockett may be a gentle giant, but he knows a thing or two about survival. If he can keep everyone in line, he should be able to get River and her crew up and down Mount Veil in one piece. Turns out that’s a big if. The wildlife’s wilder than usual, the camera crew’s determined to wander off a cliff, and the gorgeous actress is fearless. Falling for River only makes Easton’s job tougher, but there’s only so long he can hold out against her brilliant smile. When bad weather strikes, putting everyone at risk, it’ll take all of Easton’s skill to get them back home safely…and convince River she should stay in his arms for good.
Geologist and lifelong science nerd, SARAH MORGENTHALER is a passionate supporter of chocolate chip cookies, geeking out over rocks, and playing with her rescue pit bull, Sammy. When not writing romantic comedy and contemporary romance set in far-off places, Sarah can be found travelling with her husband, hiking national parks, and enjoying her own happily ever after. Sarah is a two-time Golden Heart Finalist and winner of the NOLA STARS Suzannah award.


He’d just been trying to be nice. In the future, Easton was going to stick with aloof, unapproachable, and downright surly. Nice was a pain in the ass. Nice earned him a redhead with a permanent marker and a mischievous look on her face. Don’t stop, River had written on her makeshift sign. Filming movie. Which was how Easton Lockett, one of the most respected men in Moose Springs, found himself standing on the side of the road with a pizza box sign, telling everyone not to stop for the woman walking down the road. If only he’d made the same choice for himself. The absolute last person Easton wanted to see coming down the road at this moment turned around the bend, the heavy off-road tires of her sleek black Jeep slapping the pavement. There was nowhere to hide. And knowing his sister, there was nowhere he could hide to keep her from finding him in a pride-compromising position. With a groan of dismay, Easton waggled the sign at her as she slowed down, then pulled off the side of the road behind his truck. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” “I’ve been thinking the same thing for the last hour,” Easton replied, bemused. Ashtyn Lockett had been a thorn in Easton’s side since the day she was born fifteen seconds before him. At some point since he’d seen her yesterday, she’d decided to dye her pixie cut a vibrant aquamarine with pink tips. Next week, it would be something different but equally bold. She must’ve been taking the day off by the water, because only half of the piercings she normally sported jewelry in were filled. Her nose piercing and eyebrow were adorned, but the multiple holes in her ears were piercing free. Unlike River, his twin was dressed for the weather. A ribbed tank top showing the extensive and expensive tattoos on her arms. Shorts and sandals with bright nail polish from her morning pedicure. Even brighter colors on her fingernails. Easton had spent a lot of his life glaring over his sister’s head at the guys who were interested in her, but there really was no need. Ash had never needed anyone to protect her. She was perfectly capable of handling her business all on her own. “What the hell are you doing?” Brown eyes the exact same color as Easton’s eyes widened. Sighing, Easton lifted his pizza box up in the air, turning it toward the oncoming traffic. “I’m being a Good Samaritan.” “Are you? Because it kind of looks like you’re making an idiot out of yourself for some tourists.” “They’re not tourists.” Deep denial was as good a coping mechanism as any. “They’re filming some sort of movie around the bend. And before you grill me, I don’t know anything about it. I saw a woman walking down the road, and I stopped to see if she needed help. She nearly skinned me alive for interrupting her shot.” Ash rolled her eyes. “Why would they pick here to film? Don’t they know everyone’s going to slow down and see what’s wrong?” “That’s what I said, but she’s…well…determined.” Gorgeous. Fiery. Way more trouble than he needed on any given day. “How long are you planning on standing here?” Easton didn’t know, but he’d been out there for long enough; even his arms were starting to get sore. Finally, a familiar SUV drove past and performed a highly illegal U-turn, pulling right next to Easton. River stuck her head out from the passenger seat, her face lighting up as she took in him and his sign. “No wonder no one stopped,” she said. “You look like you want to kill someone.” “That’s resting Easton face.” Ash smirked at him. “He’s normally worse.” He wasn’t speaking to either of them. Nope. Not a word. “Hey, thanks for the help. Sorry we forgot to tell you we got the shot. Here, dinner is on us.” Leaning out the window, River tucked a twenty-dollar bill in his shirt collar, not giving Easton a chance to refuse before Bree, the driver, pulled away. Ash lost it, leaning back against her Jeep, laughing so hard, her mascara started to run. “If you could see your face,” she all but cried. “I feel dirty,” he murmured, taking the twenty and stuffing it into his pocket. “You are dirty.” Gasping for breath, she wiped her eyes. “I think I love her, whoever she is.” The feeling wasn’t mutual. With an annoyed grunt, Easton tossed the pizza box in the back of Ash’s Jeep. “Compost this, please.” Since his services were no longer needed, Easton decided there was no reason to stand there any longer, giving his sister ammunition. “You never saw this,” he warned her. “Oh, everyone saw this.” Which was so true. In a place like Moose Springs, memories were long. The town would never—ever—let Easton live this down. “Destroy the evidence, Ash. If you love me, destroy the evidence.” “Don’t get your hopes up,” his twin teased. As he headed for his truck, she called after him. “I might frame it instead!”

Excerpted from Enjoy the View by Sarah Morgenthaler. © 2021 by Sarah Morgenthaler. Used with permission of the publisher, Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc. All rights reserved.  

About the Author

Ann Marie Walker is the author of six romances. She’s a fan of fancy cocktails, anything chocolate, and 80s rom-coms, and her super power is connecting any situation to an episode of Friends. Ann Marie attended the University of Notre Dame and currently lives in Chicago. You can find her at AnnMarieWalker.com.
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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Review: Cast in Firelight by Dana Swift

The first book in an epic, heart-pounding fantasy duology about two royal heirs betrothed to be married, but whose loyalties are torn, and a ruthless enemy who threatens their world, perfect for fans of Sabaa Tahir, Hafsah Faizal, and Renée Ahdieh.

Series: Wickery #1
Publication date: January 19, 2021
Published by: Delacorte Press
Genre: YA fantasy

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Adraa is the royal heir of Belwar, a talented witch on the cusp of taking her royal ceremony test, and a girl who just wants to prove her worth to her people.

Jatin is the royal heir to Naupure, a competitive wizard who's mastered all nine colors of magic, and a boy anxious to return home for the first time since he was a child.

Together, their arranged marriage will unite two of Wickery's most powerful kingdoms. But after years of rivalry from afar, Adraa and Jatin only agree on one thing: their reunion will be anything but sweet.

Only, destiny has other plans and with the criminal underbelly of Belwar suddenly making a move for control, their paths cross...and neither realizes who the other is, adopting separate secret identities instead.

Between dodging deathly spells and keeping their true selves hidden, the pair must learn to put their trust in the other if either is to uncover the real threat. Now Wickery's fate is in the hands of rivals..? Fiancées..? Partners..? Whatever they are, it's complicated and bound for greatness or destruction.

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Praise for Cast in Firelight:

“A fun, fast-paced fantasy saturated in wonder with a pair of dynamic heroes who will steal your heart. You won’t want it to end!”—KAYLYNN FLANDERS, author of Shielded

“An enchanting adventure full of fast-paced action and fantastic characters. Set in a richly imagined fantasy world, Cast in Firelight delights on every level.”—ROSEMARY CLEMENT-MOORE, author of Texas Gothic and Spirit and Dust

“I was hooked from beginning to end. The romance and adventure unfolded brilliantly, and the world and its characters swept me away. I enthusiastically recommend it!”—KATHRYN PURDIE, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Burning Glass and Bone Crier’s Moon
“Cast in Firelight sparks with quick humor and crystal prose, a vivid elemental magic system, a burning romance, and a heroine whose courage and wit light up the pages. A fantasy with a fresh voice equal-parts fun, romance, and action.”—AMELIE WEN ZHAO, author of the Blood Heir series
“Absorbing, perfectly plotted, and heartfelt, Cast in Firelight will have you turning pages and rooting for Dana Swift’s fierce, original heroine.”—LESLIE LUTZ, author of Fractured Tide
“A spell-binding debut with cage-fighting witches, vigilante heroism, and an intoxicating slow-burn romance. Fans of Serpent & Dove’s smart-alecky Lou and The Wrath and the Dawn’s cunning Sharhzard should prepare themselves to fall head over heels for the fiery Adraa.”—KELLY COON, author of the Gravedmaidens duology
“A satisfying romantic fantasy with a badass heroine and memorable setting….[Perfect for] fans of Susan Dennard and ­Roshani Chokshi.”—SLJ
“The intricate world with magic-fueled, action-packed fight scenes and snarky, colloquial banter is loosely infused with Asian Indian cultural references…will appeal to fans of fast-moving fantasy adventures.”—Kirkus Reviews


Dana Swift started making up fantasy worlds when she was eleven years old and hasn’t stopped since. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned degrees in English and Advertising. While in college, Dana competed as a saber fencer and learned a thing or two about fighting, parrying and how it feels to fall in love with your sparring partner. She currently lives with said husband in Miami, Florida.

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Cast in Firelight (Wickery, #1)Cast in Firelight by Dana Swift
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What attracted me to this new series was the witch magic system surrounding the central plot. Witches are really hot right now in the genre, but I think I've been gravitating towards these stories since Deborah Harkness' All Souls trilogy. I'm also a big fan of standalone fantasies and duologies as opposed to trilogies so the fact that we are not subjected to a three book series that drags out over a period of many years is another plus. Many times, much in these series is unnecessary filler that begins to drag, making my interest taper off. While there were some slower paced sections in this book, for the most part I enjoyed the introduction to the world and the original storyline.

Adraa is the heir of Belwar who has been gifted with "the touch" a small marking on her skin that indicates that she has born magic ability. However, to her shame, she is unlike all other known magic users because she is marked on one arm instead of two. This is almost seen as a disfigurement-it's something unnatural that she feels self conscious enough about to hide. Right off the bat, you wonder what makes her different. Will this difference prove to be a source of great power rather than a disadvantage? Sometimes our differences are what makes us stronger, which is a wonderful theme to explore here. After a disastrous (but funny) first meeting with Prince Jatin as children, the two begin a fierce rivalry with one another that reaches into young adulthood. Adraa's feelings of inadequacy over her slow mastery of magic pushes her to "best" him at every possible opportunity. While their families believe they write love letters to each other from afar, they're actually taunting one another in their secret game of one-upmanship.

Adraa and Jatin meet again in unusual circumstances as their long awaited wedding looms. They meet under the guise of mistaken identities which allows them to see past the antagonism built in over their competitive relationship. Of course, this creates a forbidden romance feeling since they are attracted to one another despite believing they are engaged to someone else. The irony is that they are falling for their fiancé which is pretty amusing at times. I was wondering if either would "cheat" before their true identities came to light and I think that would have tarnished my respect for the characters if it had happened. Thankfully, we see them battle their conscience quite a bit as they work through everything they're feeling.

    I shouldn’t be thinking about kissing her. 
I’m taken, by a girl she works for. 
And both of our countries depend upon 
Adraa and me marrying and standing up to 
my uncle’s potential threat. 
What’s wrong with me?

I enjoyed the magic system with the nine gods, the colors, and affinities. It was interesting to see how Adraa's abilities manifested in such a unique way, and how it created a source of power that was a miraculous source of aid to her people. Unfortunately, this new magic that she created turned friends into traitors, and enemies desperate to use good for evil. Adraa and Jatin must eventually work together to discover who is behind the sinister plan unfolding. Working as a team, they grow past their attraction and discover a new respect for on another.

My only two critiques of the story are that:
1) It had some slow portions that I had to push myself through
2) Jatin had an almost instantaneous puppy love reaction that didn't feel entirely natural. I wish it could have been a little more drawn out, but I appreciated the unusual way they were able to get to know one another as "strangers."

Overall, I think this was a strong debut, and a solid first book in the duology. I've read a lot of YA fantasy, and this one brought something fresh to the table which was really appreciated. I'll be excited to see how everything concludes in Bound by Firelight this spring!

    In truth, I have no idea what kind of student or wizard 
I would be without Adraa. 
I was one of the best because 
I couldn’t let a girl a year younger than I was 
and hundreds of miles away win. 
And maybe I pushed her too. 
Maybe we would be great together—
pushing each other to be better 
in magic and life.