Because of You by Fiona Brands


Because of You by Fiona Brands
Publisher: FriesenPress
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, LGBTQ, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Liv and her best friends Travis and April have just started their last year of high school and things have gotten complicated—Liv has feelings for Travis, April is getting into trouble already, and Travis has a new girlfriend. But then Liv’s mom reveals a long-buried secret about Liv’s father, who took his own life when Liv was only two, and her life is turned totally upside down.

Reminded of unresolved trauma, Liv’s mom starts drinking heavily and Liv is haunted by the thought that her parents could have had good lives if they had never met. When Liv visits the antique shop of Travis’s grandpa, she discovers a grandfather clock they suspect can transport people back in time. As Liv’s life becomes increasingly chaotic, she’s forced to decide: will she travel back in time to stop her parents’ complicated relationship, or will she endure an uncertain future?

Whether platonic or romantic, love makes everything in life better.

I adored the close-knit friendships between Liv, Travis, and April. All three of them were kind and generous people who looked out for each other. Their banter made me smile, and I enjoyed seeing how they navigated their final year of school together as all three tried to figure out what the future might hold for them.

The pacing felt slow at times to me, especially in the first half of this novel. Based on the reference to time travel in the blurb, I was surprised to see so many chapters go by without a single mention of anything related to speculative fiction at all even though I later came to understand why the author made this choice. Some of the subplots also soaked up a lot of time in the beginning for reasons that I did not understand until much later or, in some cases, at all. The writing itself was nice, I simply felt that it could have been tightened up in the beginning so the characters could move on to the main conflict faster.

Most of the science fiction I read is harder and more definitive than this, so it was refreshing to see how lightly it was sprinkled into this tale. There were hints of it sprinkled here and there, but the majority of the scenes only contained moments that could happen in real life. This could be a good introduction to science fiction for readers who don’t generally read it because of that.

Because of You was heartwarming.

If We Were Stars by Eule Grey


If We Were Stars by Eule Grey
Publisher: NineStar Press
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, LGBTQ, Romance
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The final countdown begins in three hours.

Blimey. The last thing Kurt wants is to wear a space helmet, and, no, they didn’t plan on saving the world either—Not before their eighteenth birthday anyway. Who’d have thought friending a lonely alien would lead to the Cape Canaveral launch pad.

Best friends since they were ten years old, Kurt O’Hara and Beast Harris tackle the typical teenage challenges together: pronouns, AWOL bodies, not to mention snogging. A long-distance relationship with an alien named Iuvenis is the least of their troubles.

Kurt loves programming, people-pleasing, and yellow dresses. Most of all, Kurt loves Beast.

Beast adores elephants, protest marches, and Kurt. Rules?—Nah. Humanity’s way down on Beast’s list of to-dos.

Beast and Kurt, Kurt and Beast. The end. Exactly how their love turns into a scene from Red Dwarf is anyone’s guess. Spaceships? NASA at the doorstep? No biggie. As long as they’re together, Kurt and Beast can survive anything.

Except, apparently, lift-off. Because nobody considered sensory issues, did they? Nope. NASA never made adjustments for neurodivergent astronauts. Unbelievable.

Will science be enough to blast Kurt and Beast—unlikely superheroes—into space to save the planet? Or will it take something much more extraordinary?

Neurodivergence is a gift.

Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that explored how autism affected Kurt and Beast’s lives in both positive and negative ways. It was interesting to read along as Kurt described their childhoods and how they struck a balance between finding ways to fit in when necessary while also remaining true to themselves. This is something everyone needs to learn how to do, of course, but it can be more challenging for people who stick out from the crowd and don’t always have an intuitive understanding of which rules to follow and which ones can be broken.

I struggled with the transition to a new narrator at the end of this book. Kurt was someone I enjoyed getting to know better, and their replacement didn’t have much time to become well-rounded due to how quickly they were introduced before the storyline began to wrap up. It was also disappointing to lose touch with Kurt just as they were about to meet the aliens and arguably have the biggest adventure of their lives, especially since earlier scenes had hinted that something tragic was about to occur.

The romantic subplot was nicely written. It fit into the themes of this tale seamlessly and made me hope that both of the characters involved in it would live happily ever after as they truly seemed like a great match for one another. This was a good example of how to include romance in a science fiction adventure in ways that enhanced both the science fiction and the adventurous elements of the plot.

If We Were Stars was a creative take on what it might be like to meet aliens.

Identity by Nora Roberts


Identity by Nora Roberts
Publisher: Paitkus
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Former Army brat Morgan Albright has finally planted roots in a friendly neighborhood near Baltimore. Her friend and roommate Nina helps her make the mortgage payments, as does Morgan’s job as a bartender. But after she and Nina host their first dinner party—attended by Luke, the flirtatious IT guy who’d been chatting her up at the bar—her carefully built world is shattered. The back door glass is broken, cash and jewelry are missing, her car is gone, and Nina lies dead on the floor.

Soon, a horrific truth emerges: It was Morgan who let the monster in. “Luke” is actually a cold-hearted con artist named Gavin who targets a particular type of woman, steals her assets and identity, and then commits his ultimate goal: murder.

What the FBI tells Morgan is beyond chilling. Nina wasn’t his type. Morgan is. Nina was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. And Morgan’s nightmare is just beginning. Soon she has no choice but to flee to her mother’s home in Vermont. While she struggles to build something new, she meets another man, Miles Jameson. He isn’t flashy or flirtatious, and his family business has deep roots in town. But Gavin is still out there hunting new victims, and he hasn’t forgotten the one who got away.

After growing up as an army brat – never having roots to put down – Morgan Albright is thrilled when she finally purchases her first home. Working two jobs and sharing the house with her best friend, Morgan is determined to finally have what she’s never experienced – a secure, permanent home. Only one night her entire world collapses and in the devastation afterwards everything is taken from her. Can Morgan rebuild her life once more?

I really enjoyed this stand alone novel, finding it everything that I love about a Nora Roberts story. I am very hit and miss with Roberts’ work – some of her books I love and others just really miss the mark for me. I was really pleased this one was wonderful to my mind. I felt a good connection to Morgan and her characters, finding her modern and relatable but also a good blend of strength and vulnerability. I also heartily sympathized with her having to start over again from scratch after her identity was stolen so brutally.

I found this very much to be a romantic suspense style of story. While the plot moved along at what I thought was a good clip it was quite different to usual action based books or more straight mystery/suspense styles of books. There was a lot of character growth and focus on Morgan’s character and her journey. There was also a really nice – and far slower pace – between the building attraction between Morgan and Miles. I found the slower pace here realistic – Morgan was deeply grieving and suffering when she arrived in Vermont and there was no way I’d find her falling in lust or letting her guard down at all believable. This slower pace also helped sell the book to me as more of a romantic suspense – rather than a straight romance or erotic book. There was plenty of mystery and suspense related to the murderer and I know Roberts is a legend at this balance and making these kinds of books sing.

I find it hard to believe many readers won’t have read anything of Roberts’ in the past – but if you’re that elusive one in a million then this would definitely be one of her better books to give a first try to. I found the pace and characters to be gripping and the plotline to be modern but not over-sold and having been told in a million other similar books. A good story and one I know I will likely reread again in the future.

Broken Hearts by Robert L J Borg


Broken Hearts by Robert L J Borg
Publisher: Luminosity Publishing LLC
Genre: Romance, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Is a cemetery the perfect setting for love to be found? Maybe. When Damian meets Elspeth at one, he’s certain she is his long-awaited soulmate. . ., but he’s been wrong before!

Damian Marshall had always believed himself to be a bit of a ladies’ man. He loved nothing more than dating women and enjoying their company, always hoping he would meet the love of his life. However, it never seemed to be. His love affairs would be short-lived, and two which seemed successful ended in divorce, where every time the broken hearts were always his own.

Just when he thinks there is no more hope in finding that perfect woman, he meets Elspeth, in the most unlikely of locations: a cemetery.

It is she who approaches him and strikes up a conversation. She coaxes out his life story, and he is willing to recount it all. By the end of it, they find themselves drawn to each other. Has Damian finally met his true soul mate or is it just wishful thinking? Only time will tell.

Relationships aren’t easy for everyone.

Some of the most interesting scenes to me were the ones that explored how society changed over the decades. For example, earlier in Damian’s life it was quite difficult for him to let people know that plans had changed if an accident or weather event prevented him from making it to the meeting point on time. This slowly became less common as cell phones made it possible for him to call others directly in an emergency instead of finding a pay phone and leaving messages at places he thought they might also try to check in at. It’s no wonder to me that cell phones and the Internet were such revolutionary tools, and I enjoyed finding all of the other examples of progress as well.

I struggled with the large cast of characters in this book. Women entered and exited Damian’s life so regularly that I often couldn’t remember who was who. While I’m pretty sure this was done to illustrate his personality and character defects, it also made the storyline hard to follow at times because of how many different people were involved and how little time they each had to make an impression on me. This was the only thing holding me back from choosing a higher rating, and I hope to read more from Mr. Borg soon.

The romance was unique and kept my interest levels high. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in the romance genre before, so let me tip my cap to the author for coming up with something fresh. While I did figure out the twist in it early on, it was still a great deal of fun to see how Damian reacted to it once he also knew what was happening.

Broken Hearts was a breath of fresh air.

The Convenient Roommate by E.C. Finnegan


The Convenient Roommate by E.C. Finnegan
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Romance, LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place…

After enduring a devastating betrayal, Fox finds himself in dire need of a fresh start and a new place to call home. When his loyal friend offers him a spare room in the house he shares with his charismatic brother, Fox cautiously accepts the invitation. Little does he know that this housing arrangement will ignite a flurry of unexpected emotions within him.

Caught off guard by a magnetic pull towards his friend’s older sibling, Fox battles with the fear of embarking on another vulnerable relationship. Despite his reservations, he soon realizes that there’s no escaping the undeniable chemistry that intertwines their lives.

As Fox navigates the intricacies of cohabitation, he discovers a bond beyond what he ever imagined. With shared moments of laughter, secrets exchanged, and tender gestures that hint at something more, can Fox find the courage to let go of his past heartbreak and embrace the tantalizing possibilities that lie with his conveniently attractive roommate?

It’s never too late to heal from the past.

The dialogue was realistic and entertaining. Given the difficult childhoods that both West and Fox experienced, it made total sense that their communication skills weren’t always particularly strong. This is something I’m sharing as a reader who is not generally a huge fan of plots that rely on miscommunications for conflict, but in this case, it worked perfectly for everyone involved given how much they had to hide their sexual orientations, among other things, in order to feel safe as kids. Honestly, I would have been shocked if either of them had emerged from childhood without these sorts of emotional scars. Including them enriched the storyline and made me want to keep reading.

I had trouble keeping track of many of the secondary characters. There wasn’t as much time spent describing their physical appearances, personalities, or interests as I would have preferred to see, so except for the two protagonists I struggled to form mental images of them that could have helped me remember who was who. This did improve once I was more than halfway through it, but it was still something that held me back from enjoying this as much as I would have liked to.

With that being said, I appreciated how slowly and organically the romance was allowed to unfold. The friends to lovers trope is one I already loved, and it was put to great use here. Fox and West both had excellent reasons for not rushing anything, especially given all of the other stuff going on in both of their lives that was rightfully taking up so much of their attention when they first met. In my opinion, romance novels are best to read when the characters in them already have full and satisfying lives before the slightest whiff of a new love interest is introduced. Kudos to the author for putting so much effort into this.

The Convenient Roommate had a fun premise.

The Prince and the Troll by Rainbow Rowell


The Prince and the Troll by Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: Amazon Original Stories
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Dicentra

A charming everyman and a mysterious something-under-the-bridge cross paths in a short fairy tale by the number one New York Times bestselling author of Eleanor & Park and the Simon Snow series.

It’s fate when a man accidentally drops his phone off the bridge. It’s fortune when it’s retrieved by a friendly shape sloshing in the muck underneath. From that day forward, as they share a coffee every morning, an unlikely friendship blooms. Considering the reality for the man above, where life seems perfect, and that of the sharp-witted creature below, how forever after can a happy ending be?

The Prince and the Troll is part of Faraway, a collection of retold fairy tales that take the happily-ever-after in daring new directions. Whether read or listened to in one sitting, prepare to be charmed, moved, enlightened, and frightened all over again.

I’ve been checking out a lot of Amazon Original Stories recently, and I’ve always been a fan of fantasy and fairy tales, so it was a no-brainer to check out Rainbow Rowell’s short story addition to the Faraway Collection, The Prince and The Troll. Less than an hour in audiobook form or about 30 pages on an e-reader, Rainbow Rowell does a good job spinning the classic fairytale of the troll under the bridge. Narrator Rebecca Lowman did a good job bringing the story to life with her performance in the audiobook.

When I went into the book, I admittedly expected the prince referenced in the title to be an actual prince, but that’s not quite the case. It’s a modern day fairytale, where the “prince” is more of an average person rather than someone living in a literal castle. I did appreciate the gender-bent aspect of the story, as the troll in this is a female. The romance is clean and well-written, so that’s another plus.

One major drawback of the story (and a large part of the reason why I couldn’t give it a full five stars) was how much Starbucks was mentioned in this book. It’s 29 pages, and I’m pretty sure they went through the entire menu of drinks. I realize that the original coffee the ‘prince’ brings the troll is integral to the story, but the level detail they used in describing each drink was excessive and detracted from my enjoyment of the read. The other major drawback was the ending, as it was a bit confusing and didn’t really leave me feeling like I had closure with the characters and the story as a whole.

Overall, it was a good story, and I don’t feel like the time I spent reading it was wasted. If you enjoy modern retellings of fairy tales with a genderbent twist, this would be a good choice (especially if you have Kindle Unlimited).

*Fashionista’s Playbook by Candi Scott


*Fashionista’s Playbook by Candi Scott
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

The door to the New York fashion world shut firmly in her face, Moriah Stanhope’s only option seems to be to return to her small-town home as a failure. At least, she would go home in disgrace, but her car was just repossessed. In front of the hottest guy she’s ever seen.

Travis Madera is supposed to hire an assistant. One with qualifications and experience. Someone who won’t be starstruck by the fact he’s a professional football player. But he never could resist a damsel in distress, especially one with all those curves.

Moriah’s been humiliated in front of guys like Travis before. But as his assistant, she has access to every moment of his day-to-day life, so surely she can stay ahead of any potential problems.

Until the past comes rushing into the present.

Candi Scott writes an emotional and entertaining, sports romance. The story is well written, the characters were easy for me to relate to and the story immediately drew me in.

I loved everything about the two main characters. Moriah is curvy, smart and sweet and Travis is a hot football player with a heart of gold. Moriah and Travis have undergone pain and hurt in their pasts, which makes them vulnerable and slow to trust others. However, when these two meet, they meet they have a strong connection and attraction. They feel comfortable with each other and are able to put down their guard.

It was so much fun reading Travis and Moriah’s story as they fall in love. I easily connected with them and enjoyed all of the interactions. They have a strong chemistry and thought they were perfect for each other. You don’t want to miss this captivating story.

Angelite by Rebecca Henry


Angelite by Rebecca Henry
Ambrosia Hill #5
Publisher: Totally Bound Publishing
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, LGBTQ, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When love is broken and fate uncertain only truth can be found in angelite.

Zinnia’ s fifteen birthday is marked by her move to Ambrosia Hill with her mother Lily. After surviving a wicked Halloween with Ursula Geist and banishing the dark witch to the depth of Lake Cauldron, Lily decides Zinnia needs the protection and guidance of the aunts as she continues her journey as a green witch.

Zinnia’ s dream of moving back to Ambrosia Hill becomes a reality as she is reunited with Billie and is welcomed by the charmed volleyball team as their lucky number thirteen. Zinnia has everything she’ s ever wanted including a coven of witches to practice her green magic with. The Aunts as always, have tricks up their sleeves and prepare to host a surprise kale-pulling gala at Fern House to call forth Lily’ s true love.

Things seem perfect in the Fern House living on top of the tallest hill in a sleepy town until Zinnia meets the new girl, Scarlet at the kale-pulling gala. Scarlet is a ward living with the catholic nuns at Ambrosia Hill Episcopal Convent. Her uncanny beauty and charismatic charm soon win the attention of the charm volleyball team and most importantly, Billie. Zinnia is overcome with a fit of searing jealousy as Scarlet’ s presence emerges a darker side of Zinnia. Strange and unsettling happenings are reported in the town. Cows dry up overnight and a mysterious serpent is seen lurking in Ambrosia Hill, hiding within the tall grass, ready to strike. Zinnia fears she has been cursed when her fate line breaks in two on the palm of her right hand and Zinnia is forced to rely on her inner strength when magic fails her. But who can save Zinnia when she soon discovers that the monster in Ambrosia Hill this time is her?

Moving is an adventure.

I know I’ve mentioned the wonderful world building in all of my previous reviews of these books, but the author once again surprised me with new details. As someone who grew up in a few small towns, I smiled and nodded along as Billie introduced Zinnia to some interesting secrets about the community that Zinnia thought she already knew so well. It happens in real life sometimes, too, so of course it could also happen in fiction! Locals don’t always think to share everything right away with newcomers, especially when it comes to information that may be a little controversial or out of the ordinary. Kudos for the author for keeping me guessing.

With that being said, it would have been helpful to have more time spent exploring and developing the latest secrets of Ambrosia Hill. It wasn’t until the last 50 pages or so that I learned much of anything about them at all. While I know the author probably wanted to keep some things under wraps for the future, it was a little disappointing for me as a reader to have to wait until the end for even a few of my questions to be answered. It felt like there was a lot more that could have been done with these developments, and I would have happily gone with a five-star rating if they had either been introduced earlier or if several more chapters had been added on to explore what Zinnia thought of them and how they might change her life.

The character development was often slow in the first four Ambrosia Hills books, so I was glad to see it pick up here. Zinnia was given some great opportunities to deal with her jealousy and practice self-control when other people irrationally – or, in some cases, rationally – irritated her. Did she always make the most gracious life choices? Absolutely not, but that was a good thing. Everyone has bad days, and it was refreshing to observe how she behaved when she wasn’t her usually pretty calm and collected self. You can learn a lot from how someone behaves when they’re in a terrible mood, so I’m excited to see where Ms. Henry takes Zinnia and everyone closest to her from this point forward.

This is the fifth instalment in a series that I’d recommend reading in order due to all of the character and plot development that has already occurred in this universe, some of which the narrator assumes the reader already knows.

Angelite made me grin and wish for another adventure with Zinnia.

Shattered Promises by Linda Trout


Shattered Promises by Linda Trout
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Chamomile

While investigating a plane crash in rural Arkansas, FBI Agent Wade Malone is stunned to find the only woman he ever loved living close by. As a hardened criminal closes in, putting Miranda in the cross-hairs, he’s conflicted on how to protect her, yet keep his well-guarded emotions from resurfacing.

Miranda Johnson loves the life she has carved out as an artist, but she never expected to see her former lover again. Can they reconnect and move past the hurts each inflicted on the other, or will the secret she has kept from him all these years cost them everything?

After nine long years, Randi Johnson finds her life once again thrown into a tailspin! Unexpectedly finding herself face to face with the man who left her without a word nearly a decade ago is just the tip of the iceberg.

This was a quick read, and one that can likely be enjoyed in a sitting or two for most readers. The story was entertaining and grabbed my attention from the opening pages. FBI Agent Wade Malone and Miranda (Randi) Johnson were both interesting characters, and kept the story going. I enjoyed seeing them reacquaint each other after so long a separation, and seeing them both discover the truth about the past they once shared.

The story was good, and the action, suspense, and romance were all well balanced. I did feel like some of the plot points were left open, and the loose threads left me slightly frustrated while reading. The story we do get was fun, but the face that we never really learn about the plane or why and how it went down, among other related loose ends dropped my rating of this one.

The villain also felt like kind of an odd choice to me, as his character seemed to be more or less thrown in to give an otherwise quick moving steamy romance a bit more suspense and thrills along the way, the shared trauma and danger drawing the love interests closer together. While it does serve to make for a quick and exciting read, it left some to be desired as the plot overall left me feeling a bit unsatisfied.

For those who enjoy a quick read with just the right amount of romance with just a hint of spice and a thrilling suspense, this one is probably a great story. I tend to like a little more meat and a slightly more fleshed out story and more of a complex character and plot, but know many enjoy these fast reads. This one hits the spot for a read that can be enjoyed in a couple of sittings and is written in such a way that keeps the reader entertained and engaged from cover to cover!

*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.