*All Rhodes Lead Here by Mariana Zapata

*All Rhodes Lead Here by Mariana Zapata
Publisher: Avon and Harpers Voyager, Avon
Genre: Romance, Women’s Fiction
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

The people we lose take a part of us with them…but they leave a part of themselves with us too.

Aurora De La Torre, or Ora to her friends, knows moving back to Pagosa Springs, Colorado, a place that was once home and is now full of bittersweet memories of her late mother, isn’t going to be easy. Starting your whole life over probably isn’t supposed to be.

But after breaking up with her longtime, famous musician boyfriend, hiding out in a small town in the mountains might be the perfect remedy for a broken heart. And checking out her landlord who lives across the driveway just might cure it, too.

Only Tobias Rhodes didn’t rent out the apartment to her, rather it was his teenage son, Amos. Fiercely protective of his family and distrusting of strangers, gruff and grumpy Rhodes initially keeps little miss sunshine Ora at a distance. But over days and weeks, long hikes and fireside chats, Aurora breaks down his walls and soon an unbreakable friendship blossoms into a once-in-a-lifetime love.

When I first read this book in 2021 I thoroughly enjoyed it. Now that it has been rereleased, I decided to read it again and I found that I loved this story just as much the second time around. Mariana Zapata knows how to paint a picture and make the story come alive.

All Rhodes Lead Here is a slow burn, emotional story with realistic character development. The two main characters Rhodes and Aurora, are confident, successful people, but they also have insecurities in some areas of their lives.

Aurora is recovering from a breakup that left her devastated. She had no power or control in her last relationship and is now on a mission to achieve some goals she has set for herself to regain her self esteem. Aurora is slowly learning to believe in herself again, face her fears and regain her confidence that her last relationship destroyed. She has nowhere to go and nothing to show for the years she wasted on her past relationship so she decides to move to Pagosa Springs, Colorado. She meets Rhodes when she rents an apartment from him.

Rhodes is the strong silent type and he keeps his emotions hidden behind his stoic demeanor. He is perfect for Aurora because he is protective, has a big heart and he is willing to wait to give Aurora the time she needs before starting another relationship.

I enjoyed reading Rhodes and Aurora’s story, they have loads of chemistry and I loved all of their interactions. These two cautious people are perfect for each other. This beautiful story is filled with emotion and yearning and it immediately drew me in. I cared about the characters and I couldn’t stop reading until they found their happily ever after. I loved this endearing story and I think you will too.

Embracing Amelia by Elaine Violette

Embracing Amelia by Elaine Violette
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Historical, Romance, Holiday
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Chamomile

Lady Amelia Pierce has a forbidden dream: riding in equestrian competitions. When she loses a family ring in the stable, her brother finds her foraging for it in the hay with Lucas Grey, a duke’s bastard son. Amelia’s outraged father sends her to London to salvage her reputation and find a suitable match.

Despite his ignoble birth and rakish reputation, Lucas is much admired for his management of Winston Equestrian Stables. He and Amelia are fascinated by each other. But the missing emerald ring and a viscount’s greed lead to disaster and imprisonment for Lucas. Will scandal and secrets keep him from Amelia forever?

The blurb on this one intrigued me, but it wasn’t until I started reading that I realized how much I was going to enjoy this one! Embracing Amelia by Elaine Violette is a lovely British regency tale that had all the swoon of a regency read, with some added twists that made this one fun and unique! Amelia isn’t your typical heroine, sure she is excited to fulfill her role in planning for the upcoming winter holiday parties, but she also has a secret. She aspires to compete at the horse jumping arena she’s so fond of!

Lucas has a reputation, one he’s quite proud of. At least, in part, but is there more to this broody bachelor than a notorious reputation that follows his every step? When he ends up in the middle of yet another scandal, and this one quite by accident he finds his life and the Lady Pierce’s suddenly become both intriguingly complicated.

Will Amelia be able to salvage her reputation and earn her father’s forgiveness in time to finish the holiday planning? And how will she ever explain the away the fact the Lucan Grey seems to find a way into her already messy life at every turn?

There’s so much I enjoyed about this one, the delightful twists and swoony romance were spot-on! This is a sweet romance that was overall clean. As for language, there were a few minor curse words and a instance or two with innuendos, mostly about past events. There is also one place where Amelia has to run away from an unwelcome advance from another character, but it is vague and dealt with quickly. This is a quick read, and once I started I couldn’t stop reading! I was pulled into their story immediately, and am so glad I got to read their story!

I loved meeting Amelia and Lucas, but also really liked her banter with her Aunt Libby, and meeting Georgette as well! The characters were wonderful and fit so well into this wintery tale! Amelia’s love for horses and Lucas’s devotion to Mr. Winston gave the story a deeper tone that also played beautifully into their story. Such a good read, I definitely recommend this one!

*Merry Pucking Christmas by Kelly Jamieson

*Merry Pucking Christmas by Kelly Jamieson
Publisher: Victory Editing Netgalley Co-op
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

Harley Reid
My holiday plans? Boxed wine, flannel pajamas, and Netflix minus the “chill”. I hadn’t planned on getting off my apathy until after New Years—until I accidentally crash into my ex’s new girlfriend’s car. But it’s the motivation I need to flee to my Aunt Nora’s place in NYC for Christmas.

Colliding with a typically grouchy New Yorker isn’t my best foot forward. But sweet Jesus on a cracker, he’s a lickable, Viking-size hunk of hotness. As we somehow keep running into each other, I begin to believe I can shed the hurt and humiliation and be fearless.

Nils Axelsson

My holiday plans? Spending my hockey team’s break alone. My friend Nora, however, won’t let me escape her vortex of holiday cheer, and I find myself agreeing to take her niece to a Rockettes show.

I was expecting an awkward teenager in braces, but it’s the same woman who plowed into me in the elevator. A knock-me-sideways stunning blonde whose beauty and kindness hits me like a puck to the chest. The more time I spend with her, the more I want as much as I can get before she has to go back home. Unless I can give her a reason to stay.

This is a heartwarming Christmas novella about Nils and Harley, two broken-hearted people not interested in celebrating Christmas.

When Harley decides to go to New York for Christmas, she meets Nils and as they spend time together, they start to fall in love. I love reading stories about hockey players and Nils is the perfect guy for Harley. I liked both Nils and Harley and they share tons of chemistry whenever they are together. I was cheering for them and hoping they would get the happy ending they both deserve.

I enjoyed reading this enchanting novella. It put me in the holiday spirit and left me with a smile on my face.

The Bay by LJ Ross

The Bay by LJ Ross
Publisher: Dark Skies Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern


In the picturesque seaside town of St Ives, Detective Sergeant Sophie Keane is a pillar of the community. Between the occasional collar and lazy weekends spent on the beach, it seems a perfect life. But for Sophie, the golden sands and crystal waters hide a dark secret, one that’s lain buried for twenty years.

When a body turns up on the opening night of a glittering new art gallery on the seafront, the town is left shaken—especially Sophie, who recognises the killer’s style but knows that what she fears just couldn’t be possible…

With a killer on the loose, everyone’s a suspect—especially newcomer Gabriel Rowe, who seems to have settled in far too quickly for her liking. For Sophie, he’s guilty until proven innocent…

Suspense is peppered with romance and humour in this fast-paced mystery, set amidst the spectacular Cornish landscape.

DS Sophie Keane has lived in St Ives since she was a small child, brought to the coastal town by her mother after their world collapsed. But Sophie is only too aware of the dark secrets she has hidden in her past, and when a murdered body turns up bearing the unique signature she knows all too well she discovers no one can hide their past forever. Can Sophie discover what really went on all those years ago before her world is shattered once again?

This is the third book in the Summer Suspense series, and I found it a light but enjoyable read. As the series name suggests, it’s a lighter and more romantic read than Ross’ DCI Ryan series and definitely is more of a romantic suspense novel to my mind rather than a straight mystery/thriller style. While the romance between Sophie and Gabriel is far more front and center, I’d describe the romance as closer to spicy rather than erotic – readers who like a bit of spice but nothing too overt or envelope pushing should feel this is a decent heat level for them.

I also was pleased that the bigger focus on the romance didn’t really detract too much from the mystery element to the story. I feel the author did a good job balancing the two, so readers who enjoy a strong mystery plot – and don’t mind the romantic element to it – should also find this book and series appeals to them. Finally, I can definitely say that this book stands well by itself. While there are a few characters, and the township has links to the previous two books, Sophie and Gabriel both were fully explained and met for the first time within this book and the murder mystery also began here and was neatly finished – so this book is entirely stand alone and I don’t believe any of the previous books need to be read to fully enjoy this.

Readers looking for a lighter style of book with a strong mystery, but an equal amount of romantic suspense as well should find this a lovely and relaxing book to read.

The Lady Behind the Masquerade by Diane Gaston

The Lady Behind the Masquerade by Diane Gaston
Publisher: HQN
Genre: Historical, Romance
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

The ton’s newest member

Is not all she seems…

Diplomat Marcus Wolfdon can’t forget the alluring woman he met in Paris, the passionate night they shared or that she stole his money and disappeared! A year later, Wolf meets Juliana again in Brighton, seemingly a member of the ton. She begs him to keep their former liaison secret, and the emotion in her eyes compels him to agree. Desire still flares between them, but first Wolf must uncover the lady behind the masquerade…

Two hearts who are meant to be together will find each other…eventually?

I like stories of characters who have false starts. It’s interesting to see them find their way to each other and how it can be so complicated. This book features that and more. The writing is great and carried me along in the story well. I couldn’t get enough. I loved it.

Wolf and Juliana have a future together, but it’s up to them to make it work. There are fits and starts, but that night of passion was never forgotten. I liked that they had such complicated stories. I liked the plot twists for them, too. This one had me guessing all the way up to the end. I closed the book not forgetting the characters and wanting more. I’m glad this is part of a series.

If you’re looking for a solid historical romance, then you can’t go wrong with this one. It’s a winner. Check it out.

Precious Burdens by Avery Sterling

Precious Burdens by Avery Sterling
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Historical Romance
Rated: 5 stars
Review by Rose

Sarafina di Ramonicci sets sail for America as the promised bride in an arranged political marriage.Taken prisoner at sea, she clashes with her captor and demands freedom, only to discover he is planning her future husband’s demise, with her as a pawn in their deadly feud. The challenge of escape tests her loyalty to family, human decency, and love.

Captain Nye Tarquin is a dangerous man. Left to die on the streets of New Orleans, he swears retribution on the man responsible. When he makes Sarafina part of his plan, he isn’t prepared for the fiery vixen aboard his ship, nor his desire to claim her as his own. When passion overtakes honor, he’s torn between his heart and his need for justice.

What fun this book was! It reminded me a bit of the old pirate romances I used to devour as a teenager…the excitement of a swashbuckling hero who would sweep his captive off her feet and offer her true love.

I fell in love with Nye right along with Serafina…and I joined her in wanting to smack him for being so stubborn about things at times. The relationship between them and their banter back and forth really made this book. I do love me a good character driven book, and this book has great characters.

There were twists and turns aplenty along with plenty of action, great secondary characters, wonderful dialogue, and did I say how much I loved the main characters?

I would love to see this as a movie, from the beginning where the drive for revenge is born to the very end– Netflix, are you listening?

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The Storybook Coroner by A.J. Schaar

The Storybook Coroner by A.J. Schaar
Publisher: Black Chicken Unlimited
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Kidnapping. Robbery. Death Queens. PsychoPumps. Master Plans. Hell Holes. Gods. Dragons. True Love. Sandwiches.

This is a tale full of irreverent humour, with a broad cast of gods introduced, mysteries uncovered, and grand rescue plans concocted… Easily readable and whimsical… An interesting and entertaining romp through mythology, with a modern twist.

Love conquers all…right?

Greek gods like Hermes and Pan were included in this tale, but the narrator made sure to describe them in ways that were understandable for all sorts of readers. One didn’t need to have any prior knowledge of the Greek pantheon in order to find this amusing, but readers who did know a little – or a lot – about the topic would discover additional layers of meaning. That is a difficult balance to strike when writing about this sort of topic, so I tip my cap to the author for figuring out how to make this appealing on so many different levels.

The storyline seemed non-linear at certain points, and the portions of it that were shared in chronological order didn’t always make sense to me until I learned some other details about those scenes later on. I had trouble keeping track of what happened when, especially for characters who weren’t always clear about when their memories happened. While I commend the author for taking risks with how they pieced together this tale, this reader often found the execution of it to be confusing and more complex than it needed to be.

Some of the most interesting scenes were the ones that described the romance. They were perfect for a teenage audience and felt so much like developing a crush or falling in love for the first time. The excitement and uncertainty of that stage in life is a wonderful, if also sometimes bittersweet, experience. I thought the author did a great job capturing that stage of life and how it can affect everything else that’s going on in someone’s life – or afterlife – at the same time.

The Storybook Coroner was a unique tale that made me reminisce about life as a teenager.

*All I Want for Christmas is You by Erika Kelly

*All I Want for Christmas is You by Erika Kelly
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Holiday, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

Her children are grown, her ex betrayed her in the worst way, and it’s her first Christmas alone. What better way to spend it than with the hottest man she’s ever seen? She deserves a little fun after losing everything she’s worked so hard for.

Margot Rhodes is glad to wake up in her hotel room to an empty bed. Her one and only hookup was phenomenal, but she doesn’t need to say goodbye to a man she’ll never see again. Except when she comes downstairs…she finds him in the lobby.

A snowstorm shut down the airport, and now she’s stuck with him for three days.

She needs to rebuild her life–not fall for some guy who lives two thousand miles away–so she does her best to avoid him, but the infuriating man keeps teaming up with her in the holiday events the hotel owner’s arranged to keep her guests happy.

And then, when it’s time to go their separate ways, he makes an offer she can’t refuse. It requires a move to his hometown…but what does she have to lose? She’s starting from the bottom which means the only way forward is up.

She’s got a second chance at life…is she willing to risk it all for a dirty-talking stranger?

All I Want For Christmas Is You is a delightful story filled with Christmas cheer and good feeling. I immediately connected with the two main characters, Beau and Margot and I enjoyed reading their story. In fact, I couldn’t stop reading their story until I was sure they would get the happy ending they both deserve. They have an immediate connection with each other, and their chemistry is intense.

Sadly, Beau and Margot’s first marriages were not happy because they were married to selfish people and after divorcing, they never expected to fall in love. Beau and Margot aren’t looking for a relationship but love unexpectedly finds them. They have both been hurt by their former spouses and have a hard time trusting each again. Their story shows the ins and outs of a new romance and how hard it is to take a leap in faith and trust another person after being hurt. I admired both of them. They are wonderful parents to their adult children, have a great relationship with all of them and have so much love to give. Beau and Margot deserve to be happy after all they have gone through.

I thoroughly enjoyed this beautiful and heartwarming Christmas story. Beau makes all of Margot’s dreams come true and Margot shows Beau how wonderful love can be.

Erika Kelly is one of my favorite authors and this story left me with a good feeling and put me in the Christmas spirit.

The Scarred Santa by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

The Scarred Santa by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Romance, Inspirational, Holiday, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Once handsome Rafe Sullivan is left scarred, injured, and with PTSD from his Marine Corps service in Afghanistan, returning to civilian life is far from smooth, and the burn scars on his right side are extensive. Although he lives close to family, he lives a solitary life and changes jobs more often than most people change their socks. A temporary job as Santa at the mall is presented, but Rafe first rebels, then relents. His Santa gig affects his PTSD. Then he meets Sheena Dunmore. When she doesn’t run from his scars or issues, she intrigues him. An unmasking by some rowdy children is a test of his stamina and spirit. His greatest fear is fire. Will Rafe conquer the fear so he can move forward into the new life he desires?

Kindness is for everyone.

Some of the most interesting scenes were the ones that showed how difficult the Christmas season can be for certain people. There are many reasons why someone might avoid crowds, be wary of celebrations, or not want to spend time with anyone. It made me happy to see how often the people around Rafe understood his limitations and encouraged him to do whatever he was able to do without pressuring him to do things that were too painful for him physically or emotionally. Their empathy for him was lovely and really embodied what Christmas should be all about.

There were a few plot holes in this novella that were never explained. For example, Rafe explored the idea of becoming a police officer but never fully answered the question of whether or not his PTSD and permanent leg injury would prevent him from pursuing that line of work. There was also a scene at the end involving another character being in terrible danger. It appeared to me that this person could have walked or crawled away from the threat, so I was confused by the fact that they stayed put. I wish these things had been explained better!

With that being said, I did appreciate the author’s realistic descriptions of what daily life as a civilian would be like for someone with Rafe’s extensive injuries. He struggled to do things as ordinary as go to the mall or have dinner at the homes of his relatives due to his many triggers and deep shame about his scars and missing ear. I never stopped rooting for him and hoping that he’d find a way to heal. If the author ever decides to write a sequel, I’d like to know what this character’s life was like five or ten years after the events of this tale.

The Scarred Santa was a heartwarming read.

Winter Solstice in the Crystal Castle by Jennifer Ivy Walker

Winter Solstice in the Crystal Castle by Jennifer Ivy Walker
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Historical Romance
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Rose

Gabrielle is a flame haired, fire hearted French princess who dreams of becoming a Valkyrie warrior queen like her Viking ancestors from Normandy. Sent to Paris to learn the proper etiquette for a future French queen, she is called home to le Château de Beaufort for a forced marriage to a man she loathes when her father the king’s precarious health takes a sudden turn for the worse.

Chivalrous, solitary knight Sir Bastien de Landuc suffers an impossible love for Gabrielle, the unattainable princess he can never have. Without a title of nobility, he is ineligible to compete in the tournament for her hand in marriage, despite his unparalleled equestrian skills and inimitable swordsmanship.

Yet, Yuletide wishes for a wondrous winter solstice in the glorious Crystal Castle might make impossible dreams come true.

Can the valiant knight win the coveted hand of his Viking Valkyrie?

Ms Walker takes us into the time of King Arthur and introduces us to friends and family of Sir Lancelot. Lancelot’s mother and two of her friends have their own wishes for the upcoming winter solstice.

Gabrielle is called home because her father, King of Finistere, has suddenly become ill and wants to see his daughter safely married before his death. Unfortunately, there are many men who would like to get their hands on the princess and her kingdom, so the king devises a plan for her to be sworn to a winner of a joust.

It is obvious from the beginning that Gabrielle and Bastien de Landuc, her champion and her protector, are meant for each other, but there are numerous things that stand in their way – Bastien’s lack of nobility, forces from without. Ms. Walker leads us through the twists and turns of bringing them together with her wonderful storytelling ability.

I thoroughly enjoyed the research that went into this book and the scattering of French phrases lends a touch of realism. There were, however, some words and phrases that, in my opinion, were overused. This could very well be because I’m an editor in my other life and may be more conscious of things like this than the normal reader, so it may be something that wouldn’t bother any other reader.

If you enjoy medieval romances, winter traditions, and a helping of passion, give this book a try.

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