Maggie’s List by Brittany Severn

Maggie’s List by Brittany Severn
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When Ivy loses her twin sister, Maggie, to cancer, she discovers a secret journal to be read after her death. Ivy discovers that Maggie has a bucket list that she was unable to complete. To honor her sister, Ivy sets out to complete it on Maggie’s behalf.

As Ivy works through her grief, visiting all the places Maggie never got to see, she finds herself in Scotland. Eager to tick off a few more items on her list, Ivy teams up with Evan, a handsome tour guide. Pouring her heart out in the journal, Ivy soon realizes that her old life is gone, but a new one might be ready to begin.

Every day is a fresh page in the book of life.

Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that showed how many loose ends surviving relatives must tie up after someone dies. This can be something as simple as cleaning and organizing a bedroom all the way to far more complex tasks like, say, finishing a bucket list. I was especially intrigued by the way Ivy’s grief leaked through sometimes as she checked these tasks off her to-do list. This was such a realistic approach to the process of grieving and healing after a terrible loss.

I would have liked to see more character development in this novella. While Ivy was an interesting protagonist, there wasn’t enough time spent exploring how she changed as a result of her sister’s death and the trips she took after the funeral. There was plenty of material for her to work with. I simply needed to see more examples of her personal growth in order to feel comfortable giving this a higher rating.

The romance was handled nicely. Grief can be all-consuming, especially when someone as young as Maggie dies, so I was curious to see how the author would balance Ivy’s grief for her twin with her budding romance with Evan. Luckily, the romantic scenes were handled sensitively and gave Ivy plenty of time to say goodbye to her sister before she thought of what she wanted to do with her life next. It was also cool to see space left for a possible sequel. I don’t know if Ms. Severn has one in the works, but I’ll happily read it if she does!

Maggie’s List made me smile.

A Very Private Woman by Connor Whiteley

A Very Private Woman by Connor Whiteley
Publisher: CGD Publishing
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

An Invitation Like No Other. Sister Rivalry. A Very Private Woman.

Nothing is as it seems.

Private Eye Bettie English receives a visitor. She hears a top-secret job offer. Bettie knows something is afoot.

Bettie needs to find the truth.

If you enjoy gripping, unputdownable private eye mysteries holding you from the first to last word. You will love this book!

Be careful whom you trust.

The pregnancy subplot added some nice twists to this mystery. I can’t say much about it without giving away spoilers, but I liked seeing how the author used common pregnancy symptoms to encourage his characters to do certain things that they probably would not have otherwise done. This isn’t something I’ve seen very often in this genre, and I found it refreshing to have such an ordinary but important part of life included in the character arcs.

While I understand that there are additional books coming about Bettie and the other characters, I did find myself wishing that the narrator had spent more time on character development in this introduction to their world. I certainly didn’t expect to figure everything out about the characters right away, but it would be tricky for me to describe their personalities in depth at the moment. My fingers are crossed that we’ll get to know Bettie and the people closest to her better in the future because I really wanted to give this a higher rating. The storyline itself was exciting and fun.

Speaking of the plot, I enjoyed the author’s dedication to keeping everything moving along at a quick pace. That was an excellent choice for this particular mystery, and it kept my interest levels high from the first scene to the last one. There was always something to urge me to continue reading for just one more page which was a wonderful excuse to ignore the outside world for a while and see what happened next.

A Very Private Woman was an intriguing start to a new mystery series.

*Cold-Blooded Liar by Karen Rose

*Cold-Blooded Liar by Karen Rose
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group, Berkley
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

Sam Reeves is a kindhearted psychologist who treats court-ordered clients. After one of his patients—a pathological liar—starts revealing plausible new details from a long-unsolved serial murder case, he’s compelled to report anonymously to the SDPD tip line, though his attempts to respect patient confidentiality land him facedown and cuffed by the aggressive (and cute) Detective McKittrick.

San Diego homicide detective Kit McKittrick loves the water. She lives on a boat, and when she’s not solving crimes with the SDPD, she’s assisting her foster sister with her charter fishing business or playing with her poodle. But there’s nothing that intrigues Kit more than a cold case, so when an anonymous caller leads her on the path of a wanted killer, she’s determined to end the decade-long manhunt.

Sam is soon released but goes home with both a newfound distaste for the SDPD and a resolve—not unlike Kit’s—to uncover the truth. Kit and Sam repeatedly butt heads in their separate investigations but are forced to work together to find one of the deadliest serial killers the city has faced in years.

Cold-Blooded Liar is a fast paced, thrilling ride. It is filled with colorful and entertaining characters, and I was on the edge of my seat throughout the entire book. I was quickly turning the pages because I needed to know what would happen next in this intriguing story.

The main character in the story is Kit, a homicide detective. She works hard on all her cases and also tries to solve many cold cases when she has some free time. She has a good reputation and is respected by her peers.

Kit meets Dr. Sam Reeves, a psychologist when he becomes a suspect in a serial murder case she is working on. Sam is a good guy who gets in trouble trying to do the right thing.

There is an immediate attraction between Sam and Kit but neither of them take the next step while trying to solve the case. This is a slow burn romance with an unresolved ending to Sam and Kit’s romance. I wish there was an epilogue at the end of the story letting me know how everything worked out between them.

I love reading suspenseful stories and I like everything Karen Rose writes. She knows how to paint a picture with intricate plot weaving. The characters in this story are believable and easy to relate to and I found myself devouring every word.

Heartstopper, Vol 4 by Alice Oseman

Heartstopper, Vol 4 by Alice Oseman
Publisher: Graphix
Genre: YA (Ages 16+), Contemporary, LGBTQ, Romance, Graphic Novel
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Charlie and Nick’s relationship has been going really well, and Charlie thinks he’s ready to say those three little words: I love you.

Nick feels the same way, but he’s got a lot on his mind — especially the thought of coming out to his dad and the fact that Charlie might have an eating disorder.

As a new school year begins, Charlie and Nick will have to learn what love really means.

Two young men navigating the world of love one mile at a time.

I hate when I pick up a book part way through the series. I do. But I’m apt to do it because I tend to discover series after they’re started. That’s the case with this book. I started the series at the end, then bounced to the beginning and am back near the end again. Sounds confusing? It’s not. This book flew by, and I wasn’t lost at all. It was like picking up the journal of good friends. It was like seeing those good friends again.

I love Nick and Charlie. They’re a good pair. They’re also relatable. They show what it’s like for LGBTQ kids to come out, to be bullied, to have anxieties and how sometimes dealing with them isn’t easy. They show there is hope, too. If you’ve got a support system, you can get through it. I loved that Nick and Charlie are that for each other, but they’ve also got their families, friends and lots of other people. It’s cute to see them get together and fumble through life.

If you’re looking for a graphic novel that’s high on romance, anxiety, love and is so cute, then pick this one up. It’s a worthy read.

Nick and Charlie by Alice Oseman

Nick and Charlie by Alice Oseman
A Heartstopper Novella
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Genre: YA (16+), LGBTQ, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

From the mega-bestselling creator of Heartstopper, a must-have novella in which Heartstopper’s lead characters, Nick and Charlie, face one of their biggest challenges yet.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder… right?

Everyone knows that Nick and Charlie love their nearly inseparable life together. But soon Nick will be leaving for university, and Charlie, a year younger, will be left behind. Everyone’s asking if they’re staying together, which is a stupid question… or at least that’s what Nick and Charlie assume at first.

As the time to say goodbye gets inevitably closer, both Nick and Charlie start to question whether their love is strong enough to survive being apart. Charlie is sure he’s holding Nick back… and Nick can’t tell what Charlie’s thinking.
Things spiral from there.

Everyone knows that first loves rarely last forever. What will it take for Nick and Charlie to defy the odds?

Two young men navigating a world that’s hard enough when you’re older and treacherous when you’re a teen.

I read Heartstopper, Vol 1 and loved it, but I picked up this one next because it was available. I’m still reading Vol 2, 3 and 4. Having said that, I don’t feel like I missed much by reading this novella next. It’s the most recent in the Nick and Charlie saga, but it’s told in the form of a novella, not a graphic novel. That made a difference. It’s told through each character’s point of view and I liked that because the reader can get into the character’s head.

Nick and Charlie are at a crossroads. Nick is about to go ff to college and Charlie will be left behind. It’s a rough situation many teens go through–leaving their girlfriend or boyfriend behind. It’s relatable what these two go through and it’s heart rendering, too. It’s tough to be a teen. But in this story, the tale is told through the eyes of the characters and at a teen level. There’s no pandering here. I liked that.

If you want a story to get involved with, with characters that stick with you long after the last page, then this might be the one for you. It was for me.

Around We Go by Sarah Caldwell

Around We Go by Sarah Caldwell
The Loveseat Series, Book 1
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Erotic Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

An elegant dress, a paid-for hotel room, and a night out with my boyfriend? What could possibly go wrong?

Around We Go tells the story of Allie, a journalist desperately in need of a good night out. Uninspired at her job and yearning for adventure, she attends the opening of the hotel that her boyfriend helped develop. Perhaps this event will provide just what she needs to rekindle her flame, and maybe even light a new one…

Fast and hot.

I picked up this book because I wanted something quick for a lunch read and this delivered. It moves at a great clip and the characters were interesting. I’ve never read anything by Sarah Caldwell and I’m glad I did.

I liked that Allie came into her own in this story. It’s refreshing to see a woman blossom this way and to realize what she deserves. The empowerment is great. I liked that she’s relatable, too. I had some issues with the way things played out, as it was almost too fast and would like to see where this goes after this book.

Still, it’s hot, fast and will singe the screen as you read. Give this short story a try!

Love’s Anchor by Mimi B. Rose

Love’s Anchor by Mimi B. Rose
The Laurentian Mountain Clan
Publisher: Totally Bound
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Erotic Romance
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

She’s caught between two clans. One says she’s their property, the other she’s the Fated Mate of the Alpha’s son.

After hiding from shifters all her life, Mirabelle Beauchamp finds herself caught in a deadly rivalry between two clans. When sexy Alpha’s son Maxime Ducharme helps her fend off a shifter attack, she’s thrown into the world her mother shielded her from. Maxime’s rivals return, claiming Mirabelle is one of them, but she knows she belongs to Maxime and Maxime belongs to her.

They’ll both have to fight for what they want. For the freedom to choose—and to love.

Hot, fast and shifter fun!

I’ve never read anything by Mimi B Rose and I’m glad I rectified that. This was a hot read and fast, but it moved along at a good clip. I liked the writing style and will check out more of the author’s work.

Mirabelle and Maxime are a good pairing, even if they’re from rival clans. I liked the way they had to work together and figure things out, while fighting off temptation and rivals. This story moved fast, but I liked the insta-love portion. It worked for the story.

There were a few loose ends I wanted to see tied up, but that only whet my appetite for the next book. I see this is a prequel, so I’m excited to find the rest.

If you want something hot and fast, then this might be the right story for you.

Heartstopper, Vol 1 by Alice Oseman

Heartstopper, Vol 1 by Alice Oseman
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books
Genre: YA (Ages 14-18), Romance, LGBTQ, Graphic Novel, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Boy meets boy. Boys become friends. Boys fall in love. An LGBTQ+ graphic novel about life, love, and everything that happens in between – for fans of The Art of Being Normal, Holly Bourne and Love, Simon.

Charlie and Nick are at the same school, but they’ve never met … until one day when they’re made to sit together. They quickly become friends, and soon Charlie is falling hard for Nick, even though he doesn’t think he has a chance.

But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is more interested in Charlie than either of them realised.

Heartstopper is about love, friendship, loyalty and mental illness. It encompasses all the small stories of Nick and Charlie’s lives that together make up something larger, which speaks to all of us.

Two young men, a confusing world and a whole lot of attraction.

I liked this book because it’s easy for teens to understand. I don’t mean it’s an easy read (though it is because it’s a graphic novel and told like a big comic) but because it’s on their level. It doesn’t talk down to them, but rather shows them another dimension of what they’re going through. It’s relatable.

I liked Nick and Charlie. I could tell right away there was more going on than met the eye and I liked how it unfolded. There’s timidness and fear, but also attraction and coming to terms with who one is. It’s wonderful and not shaming. I like that the characters are still afraid to be themselves, but they come into their own around each other and their families are accepting. This is a positive story for teens to read.

I can’t wait for the next volume as this one ended on a cliffhanger. That’s okay. It drew me in to wanting to know more.

If you’re looking for a great teen YA LGBTQ romance, then this is the one for you. Check it out!

Unkinked by MC Roth

Unkinked by MC Roth
It’s a Kink Thing series, book 2
Publisher: Pride Publishing, Totally Entwined
Genre: LGBTQ, Contemporary, Erotic Romance
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Two broken men. One secret addiction. No turning back.

When Derreck stumbles upon Maddy, who is sitting in his car and nearly sweating to death under the summer’s sun, he is at his breaking point.

But Maddy is just as lost, searching for a Dom he only knows by name and waiting in his car outside the club Unkinked on the tiny chance that the Dom might find him. When it is revealed that Derreck is the man Maddy has been searching for from the very beginning, it seems fate couldn’t get any sweeter.

Derreck invites Maddy into Unkinked as his guest, with the promise of the pain that Maddy so desperately craves. A scene that should have been simple opens Maddy’s mind to a new world and community that aren’t riddled with guilt or judgment.
Derreck knows he can’t let his sub slip away, but Maddy is keeping secrets from his new Dom—secrets that could change their relationship forever.

Tenderness that’s not always visible in some kink books.

I’ve read the others in this series and this one is my favorite so far. The buildup is great and the characters even better. MC Roth writes kink well and this book showcases that. I couldn’t get through this story fast enough.

Derreck understands Maddy in a way that few others do, and I liked the way they meshed. Maddy needs pain in his play and Derreck can give it in the way Maddy needs but also with respect. I liked that these two are hurt but find a way to work together to heal each other. The story gave me hope and I liked that.

The story took a while to unfold, but it was worth the wait.

If you’re looking for something hot and totally worth getting invested in, then this is the one for you. Check it out.

You Only Die Twice by Brynn Kelly (Author), Alan Carlson (Narrator), Stacia Newcomb (Narrator),

You Only Die Twice by Brynn Kelly (Author), Alan Carlson (Narrator), Stacia Newcomb (Narrator),
Publisher: Audible Originals
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Suspense/Mystery/Thriller
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Danger and desire collide in this romantic thrill ride—available exclusively in audio!

When high school English teacher Alice Thornton helps her dying Russian neighbor write a spy thriller, she thinks she’s just doing a good deed. But when a sexy mystery man shows up in her classroom, claiming to be the novel’s dashing antihero, Alice is swept into a lethal conspiracy.

Enigmatic former CIA operative Carter Beck warns her that the sensational murder plot wasn’t fiction. And because she knows too much, the killer wants her silenced—making Carter her only hope of survival.

Forced on the run, Alice and Carter must separate truth from fiction to unmask the murderer before they become the next victims. The danger is only too real—and so is their unexpected chemistry. In between motorcycle chases, dodging bullets and unraveling clues, the unlikely pair start to wonder if the secret to their survival might just be each other….

Anyone looking for an edge-of-your-seat romantic suspense can’t go wrong with this audiobook. You Only Die Twice is only available in audio format and its delivery is exceptional and engaging because of the narrators and how they bring the story to life. In the beginning, there were even sound effects, so I felt like I was listening to a movie. I laughed at the screeching tires because of what they actually meant. Thank goodness I’m not that bad a driver.

What I found fascinating about the narrators is that Alan Carlson and Stacia Newcomb take turns at the mike. Instead of one taking only the male characters and the other, the female characters, their readings included doing both voices. Mr. Carlson had a distinctive female voice, and Ms. Newcomb had a distinct and growly tone for the hero, Carter Beck. It actually worked.

The format is interesting. When the narrator for Carter Beck was on scene, the story is told from 18 months prior, leading up to when Alice’s narrator takes over and continues the story in the present day. It’s interesting how the timelines gradually merge into the present ending up at the time both are on the run. The only drawback of an audio-only format is the inability to see how names are spelled. Nikka(?) is the female Russian spy who I only get to meet via Carter’s historical narration. In the present, when Alice is talking about Nikka, she has already died so the focus is on solving the mystery by finding the clues the Russian spy left behind. Their location ends up being surprising. What the secrets were was incredibly shocking.

The suspense level is driven by the main characters having no idea who they can trust. It turns out that some of the ones they should be able to trust, can’t be, and some that they shouldn’t trust turn out to be unexpected allies. Because lies are flying all over the place, there’s no sure way to tell which is which, so for the most part, Carter and Alice are on their own. For being ‘just a teacher’, Alice ended up being a better partner and asset to Carter than he ever could have expected. Heck, Alice shocked herself in what she could accomplish when death was on the line.

The weird and unexpected sub-theme of the story is death. Not by gunshots or bad guys, but by cancer. Alice’s whole family is attacked by cancer. Her sister is amazing and her last zing to Alice ended up bringing tears to my eyes. What a truly special relationship they had. Readers/listeners get to know her, so the ending has a special poignancy. In fact, both Alice and Carter bond over some of what some might call morbid similarities, but in truth, it’s what thousands of people face and fight each and every day. It really made the hero and heroine believable, relatable, and I was 100% invested in their story.

I stumbled upon this book and the blurb seemed really interesting. I wasn’t sure if I was going to stick with the book in the beginning because I was going in blind. I didn’t know the author’s caliber, and as listeners of audiobooks know, narrators can make or break a book. I can assure you that every single component of this story, from plot to dialogue, pace and narrative talent, all worked together in perfect harmony and engaged my senses to the point I stayed up until 1 A.M. because I simply didn’t want to stop until I reached its conclusion. It was a great experience!

I heartily recommend this audiobook to readers of contemporary romantic suspense. You Only Die Twice delivers a fantastic mystery experience filled with drama, suspense, intrigue, action, romance and a happy-for-now with solid tones of a true HEA.