*Flirting with the Beast by Jane Porter

*Flirting with the Beast by Jane Porter
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Holiday
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

It’s been five years since Andi McDermott lost her husband, and she’s finally starting to feel like herself again, ready to live fully—she’s even started dating again. But when her holiday plans with her stepson and his fiancée fall through, she refuses to spend another Christmas alone while everyone is celebrating with their families. Impulsively, she decides to go up to her cabin in Lake Arrowhead, a place she used to love to visit but hadn’t gone to in years, not since the feud started between her husband and their nearest neighbor.

Andi starts to rethink her decision when being alone at the cabin proves to be more challenging than she expected—a heavy snowstorm hits the area, and Andi finds herself trapped there with no one to help except for her neighbor, Wolf Enders. A military vet who lives full-time on Lake Arrowhead, Wolf is as grumpy and intimidating as Andi remembers. But he’s also unexpectedly kind and uncomfortably sexy—his presence reminds Andi that she may be older, but her body still works perfectly fine, thank you very much. But can this good girl tame this sexy beast of a man, and will this snowy fling turn into a love of a lifetime?

I loved reading Wolf and Andi’s story. I thought it was emotional and touching and I never wanted it to end. What I found intriguing and different about this story is that it is about two mature adults. They have both had their ups and downs in life and don’t expect to find love again.

Andi is a widow feeling adrift since her husband died. She is lonely and feels stuck; she is ready for some changes in her life.

Wolf is a strong alpha male, he is former military, down to earth and enjoys the solitude his cabin provides. He is big, muscled and imposing and the exact opposite of Andi’s former husband.

Wolf and Andi are great together and they have loads of chemistry. They are two broken people and together they fill each other’s holes. Wolf is afraid to take a chance on love again but he finds it impossible to resist Andi. I liked all their scorching looks and all of their encounters.

Wolf and Andi’s story is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. They are opposites in many ways but yet they fit together so well. Andi’s sweetness and trust help break down Wolf’s walls. Her kindness and openness helps open Wolf’s heart and keep his grumpiness at bay.

They are two mature adults trying to navigate a relationship while dealing with kids, grandkids and family drama. I loved reading their story and I was rooting for them to get their HEA. I enjoyed the plot and all of the interesting secondary characters. I highly recommend reading Flirting with the Beast.

Touch the Wind by Janet Dailey

Touch the Wind by Janet Dailey
Publisher: Pocket Books
Genre: Recent Historical, Romance, Action/Adventure
Rating: 2 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

All her life, beautiful Sheila got what she wanted. Now she yearned for the raw passion of a man beyond her reach, a violent, mysterious outlaw whose followers adored him. A lion of a man who held her for ransom—a man who would trade her for a fortune in gold. But Sheila wanted only him—with all the reckless longing of her body and soul.

Janet Dailey is a word weaver and master storyteller.

This isn’t the first book I’ve read by Janet Dailey and won’t be the last. I’ve loved many of her books. This one is a fantastic story, with sweeping narratives and moves along at a great pace. The writing is good, and I didn’t want to put it down.

That’s not to say it was my favorite book. There are certainly triggers in this book. I must say I liked Sheila and seeing her humanized. At the beginning of the book, she’s a bit of an ice princess, but also yearning so much for something she’ll take anything to get it. She was a bit one-dimensional, and I liked seeing her grow. That also said, I didn’t care for the hero or the way she was treated. There are scenes of abuse, scenes of violence and I never quite got the connection between the hero and heroine. She was better off with him in some ways than her husband, but in other ways…I wasn’t so sure. I wasn’t a fan of the hero, that’s all.

I have to also add this is a book from 1979. It reads like a book of that era–it’s a bodice ripper and there is certainly an air of almost toxic masculinity. Keep that in mind while reading. It’s meant to be over the top, hyper masculine and raw. To some, this might be a bad thing, but others this might be the fantasy type of hero they want to read about.

If you’re looking for something of that era, something hot and with a touch of romance, then this might be the one for you.

The Tower’s Peculiar Visitor by Lesley-Anne McLeod

The Tower’s Peculiar Visitor by Lesley-Anne McLeod
Publisher: Uncial Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Jane Gladwyne enjoys her work, and she enjoys her life as a general secretary and governess at Kenning Old Manor. When she is told of the propensity of the ancient Red Tower, part of the ruined Kenning Castle, to allow people of other times to arrive in 1825, she is at first disbelieving. The household at Kenning Old Manor accept this oddity as fact however, and eventually Jane too acknowledges the impossible reality. She is thankful the Red Tower is not her responsibility, but that of Caleb Debray, son of the estate steward.

When a visitor from the future arrives in the Tower however, she is seconded to Debray as his assistant. And the fact of time travel is all too real, as between them, Jane and Caleb attempt to conceal the visitor’s origins, curtail his activities, and cope with his ebullient personality. The task brings them into constant contact and, as they become better acquainted, a warmth grows between them.

When the visitor’s actions endanger the family that owns Kenning Old Manor, Caleb and Jane must protect the household. When the traveler’s suggestions endanger Jane’s peace of mind, she must make difficult decisions. And when the visitor’s presence threatens Caleb’s future happiness, he takes decisive action.

Eventually the explorer decides to travel on, risking his life again through the Tower portal, and Caleb cannot be sorry. But the visitor’s arrival and his presence have changed everything for the inhabitants of Kenning Old Manor. Balance and normality will be difficult to recapture, and happiness could be elusive.

Nothing remains the same forever.

It was intriguing to read a time travel novel from the perspective of characters who must suddenly cope with a visitor who is so uninformed about their culture and way of life. I can’t say I’ve ever read anything like it before, and it made me look at time travel in a new light. What may be exciting to the person travelling to the past can also be puzzling or even sometimes irritating to the individuals who must explain everything and have their routines thrown out of order.

I struggled with the slow pacing, especially later on once the main characters had all been introduced and the visitor from the future began to settle into rural life in 1825. While I wouldn’t expect this storyline to move as quickly as something set in the present day, there were plenty of opportunities for more conflict and adventure here that never came to fruition.

The world building was solid and dependable. Jane lived in a time and place when change happens slowly and, with the exception of the turning of the seasons, one day was generally more or less just like the one that came before it. Ms. McLeod explained the benefits of this sort of society nicely, and I enjoyed the subtle touches she added to explain certain social mores that are no longer culturally relevant for the average reader today. While they weren’t strictly necessary for understanding most scenes, they added a vibrant undercurrent to the plot that made me curious to find out what would happen to these characters next as Zeke accidentally disrupted everything.

The Tower’s Peculiar Visitor was a thoughtful read.

Caressed by Ice by Nalini Singh

Caressed by Ice by Nalini Singh
Psy-Changelings, Book 3
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance, Action/Adventure, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

As an Arrow, an elite soldier in the Psy Council ranks, Judd Lauren was forced to do terrible things in the name of his people. Now a defector, his dark abilities have made him the most deadly of assassins – cold, pitiless, unfeeling. Until he meets Brenna…

Brenna Shane Kincaid was an innocent before she was abducted – and had her mind violated – by a serial killer. Her sense of evil runs so deep, she fears she could become a killer herself. Then the first dead body is found, victim of a familiar madness. Judd is her only hope, yet her sensual changeling side rebels against the inhuman chill of his personality, even as desire explodes between them. Shocking and raw, their passion is a danger that threatens not only their hearts, but their very lives…

Complicated, hot and fantastic.

I’ve never read Nalini Singh before and I’m glad I remedied that. I can’t wait to go back and pick up more of her titles. This one was hot, so hot it scorched the pages, complicated – I’ve never read a world this intricate – and fantastic. The pacing was good, and the reveal was even better. I got emotionally involved in the story and didn’t want to put it down.

Brenna is a changeling with issues. Oh boy, does she have issues. She’s been traumatized and her past may be a trigger to some – there is violence and assault toward her – but this makes her who she is. She’s stronger than she thinks. I liked how Judd plays off her, too. He’s cold as ice and trained to be that way, but he’s got a reason. He’s an Arrow. An elite. He’s supposed to be tough, unyielding and strong. I like how he melts for her and the way their pairing progresses. It’s hot and sometimes painful, but worth the ride.

If you’re looking for something intense, then this might be the romance for you. I’m hooked.

Obsidian by Rebecca Henry

Obsidian by Rebecca Henry
Publisher: Finch Books
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, LGBTQ, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Sometimes the truth has to be revealed in order to recieve love.

Ninth grade is everything Zinnia didn’ t want it to be at St. Hopes. Her life back in the city feels empty and Liv’ s groupies of popular girls are suffocating Zinnia with their daily taunts. As Halloween approaches, Zinnia craves the comfort and security of Ambrosia Hill and desperately wishes to be back with her aunts but especially Billie, the girl with the green eyes, who Zinnia can’t get out of her mind. Right when Zinnia thinks she won’ t be able to wait until the summer to see Billie, her mom shocks her with a spontaneous announcement. They are leaving for Ambrosia Hill to visit the aunts. But can Zinnia surrender her truth to accept love?

Everyone needs a place that makes them feel like they belong there.

Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that explored the many different options that were available to a witch. Not only did young witches decide whether they wanted to be on the side of good or of evil, the powers they had could vary quite a bit from one individual to the next. This meant that it wasn’t easy to predict in advance what someone in this group was like even in small ways like whether it would be safe to walk through their garden. I was fascinated by the diversity here and gobbled up every last description. It made me think of all of the Halloween stories I’ve read and watched about witches and wonder what a film based on this world might be like!

My review of Amethyst mentioned wanting to see more character development for Zinnia and the people closest to her. While it still happened much more slowly than I would have preferred to see, I was pleased to take note of the subtle but important ways in which all of the main characters had evolved since I’d first met them. I hope that any possible sequels in the works will speed up this progress as this was the only thing holding me back from giving a full five-star rating.

Once again, I was thrilled with the world building in this series. The first instalment did an excellent job of showing how magic worked in this universe and what it meant to be a witch. It was wonderful to see all of that hard work not only acknowledged in the sequel but used as a foundation to explore these topics in even greater detail here. I highly recommend beginning with book one in order to fully appreciate just how much effort the author put into this. She couldn’t have done a better job at it.

Obsidian was a satisfying read.

A Pirate’s Love by Johanna Lindsey

A Pirate’s Love by Johanna Lindsey
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Action/Adventure, Romance, Historical
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Sailing westward toward the Caribbean sun, young Bettina Verlaine obediently sets out to fulfill the promise made by her father–but not by her heart — a prearranged marriage destined not to be…once the notorious Captain Tristan’s pirate ship appears on the horizon.

Abducted by the bold and handsome brigand, the pale-haired beauty surrenders her innocence in the warm caress of the tropical winds — detesting her virile captor for enslaving her. . .yet loving him for the passionate spell he casts over fragile, yearning heart.

He’s hot and he’s demanding…he’s also in charge.

I was given this book as part of a recommended reading list and I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. The writing flowed well and it’s certainly a throwback romance. I’ve never read a Johanna Lindsey before now, but I’m glad I did. I’m headed to check out more of her work after this one.

Tristan is everything a romance hero should be–he’s in charge, he’s dangerous and he’s demanding. He’s also a hot pirate, so that doesn’t hurt. Bettina is inexperienced, as I expected in a book like this, and he’s about to give her that experience. I liked the pairing because as much as he’s pushing her, she’s giving it right back to him. They play off each other well.

This is a bodice-ripper, though. He pushes to the point where it’s almost not attractive. I wasn’t a fan of him for most of the book, to be honest. He was just too…much for me. Bettina was a bit much, too. She’s a firebrand and she detests him, but she likes being with him. The push-pull got tiresome at times. I also wasn’t fond of the way the word rape was thrown around. I get it was dubious consent. Oh, boy, I got that. For me, it took me out of the story to have that word used so much.

Still, this was hot and there were times of tenderness. It’s a good read and one I’m glad I ticked off my reading list. You should, too.

Son of the Morning by Linda Howard

Son of the Morning by Linda Howard
Publisher: Pocket Books
Genre: Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

A scholar specializing in ancient manuscripts, Grace St. John never imagined that a cache of old documents she discovered was the missing link to a lost Celtic treasure. But as soon as she deciphers the legend of the Knights of the Templar — long fabled to hold the key to unlimited power — Grace becomes the target of a ruthless killer bent on abusing the coveted force. Determined to stop him, Grace needs the help of a warrior bound by duty to uphold the Templar’s secret for all eternity. But to find him — and to save herself — she must go back in time . . . to fourteenth-century Scotland . . . and to Black Niall, a fierce man of dark fury and raw, unbridled desire. . . .

Unbridled desire is the truth!

This is the first Linda Howard book I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. This one captivated me right off and I had to know what would happen next. The writing is engaging and the characters fascinating.

Grace has everything she wants–the life, the job, the guy, but then it’s all taken away. I liked how she had to build herself back up to get what she wanted the second time around. There’s a lot of forgiveness in this story and it made it relatable. The suspense is thick, too. Ooh boy! I liked Niall, too. He’s dark, broody and romantic. He’s the perfect hero.

I have to admit the first half of this story moved a bit slowly for me. I wanted it to pick up and for Grace to get a few breaks, but it paid off at the end. Plus, there is some definite steam. I liked how the author teased the relationship for Grace and kept getting right to the edge, then bringing the reader back. That’s great.

If you’re looking for a suspense story that’s certainly a slower build, then this might be the one for you. I’m on the lookout for more by this author.

Designed by Destiny by Maya Tyler

Designed by Destiny by Maya Tyler
Fairy Godmothers Incorporated, #1
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Paranormal
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Confirmed bachelor Nicholas Grey is more than the playboy perpetrated by the tabloids. Now his position as CEO of the architecture firm Grey & Company is on the line, and his mother’s interference is making things more difficult. Nick’s committed to his work, but, in order to be taken seriously, he needs to land a huge project. A stable personal life will help guarantee the contract.

Fairy Godmother Faye Delmore hears Nick’s plea and steps in to help. Posing as a publicist, she suggests a strategy to polish his public image, which includes convincing Beth to play his wife. Faye knows Nick needs the huge project to save his job, but she also knows he needs Beth in his life.

What happens when you add a fairy godmother who loves playing matchmaker into the equation? A future designed by destiny.

If readers enjoy the fake fiancé trope, then this is a fun story to try. Bethany Clark and Nicholas Grey accidently meet during a meet and greet at an architectural conference. What I found interesting is that there is a fuzzy thread of ‘love at first sight’ though that’s not the theme of this romance tale. Nevertheless, their initial contact frankly screamed attraction and interest. The author wasted no time in creating a situation of desperation, the catalyst that starts a series of events Nicholas could never have conceived. It quickly snowballs out of control and he and Beth have to navigate it as a team.

The thing about two strangers coming together in this manner means that there’s a lot of vulnerability that can easily be taken advantage by unscrupulous characters. And boy oh boy did the author create some whackos. Poor Nick was surrounded by them, and it shocked me that one of them was a member of his own family. Even though it’s a common kind of wrinkle in fledging relationships, Ms. Tyler used it to good effect. I kept hoping for a fairytale ending, and I kind of got one, but not in the manner I expected.

This book, though touted as paranormal, wasn’t heavy with it. It’s a light touch via the gentle guidance/inference of a fairy godmother, Faye. What was unexpected is the sub-story of Faye’s own doomed romance also getting a second chance. While I wasn’t thrilled with the ‘interruption’, Faye’s character grew on me. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with hoping for two ‘happy ever afters’, right?

I really liked Cara, Beth’s best friend. Everyone should have a friend like Cara. In a way, Nick had his best friend, Greg, to rely on as well, but I was ambivalent about him for most of the story. I was worried he would end up like Jason Alexander’s character from Pretty Woman – there were subtle similarities and it preyed on my mind in the background every time he was on scene. I don’t know if it was accident or design by the author, but it provided a heightened sense of worry for both Nick and Beth – I really wanted them to be happy. I became 100% engaged in their journey to a happy ever after that I felt they both deserved. I am relieved to report that this romance story satisfied my optimistic hope for the couple – after a very scary encounter with an enraged and vengeful secondary character. I didn’t expect that and was properly stunned.

Designed by Destiny is a really good read and a wonderful romance story. It includes variations of the tropes of the genre that fans will recognize, but Ms. Tyler uses them to create an engaging and entertaining tale of two unlikely people who share a passion for architecture and discover a new passion, for each other. Its ending shows a promising future for both Nick and Beth as they both open themselves up to trust, love, and the realization that together, they could conquer anything. I think the only thing that could have made this story even better would have been adding an epilogue showing the fruits of their new dream. Alas, I have to use my imagination – which isn’t too much of a stretch. The author laid a solid foundation that pretty much guaranteed their solid HEA. I definitely recommend this book and if you do decide to pick up your own copy, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

*Love Me Like You Do by Erika Kelly

*Love Me Like You Do by Erika Kelly
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

How did the hottest hockey player in the NHL wind up braiding hair and hosting tea parties?

Because someone was foolish enough to name him co-guardian of their children. That’s how.

Cole Montgomery’s living his best life–until he gets a call from an attorney letting him know he’s been entrusted with the care of two little girls. He can’t imagine why anyone would think he was a good role model. He can’t even keep a plant alive.

Lingerie designer Hailey Casselton grew up with a free-spirited mother. So, when she finds out she’s the temporary co-guardian to two children, she’s determined to give them the best Christmas they’ve ever had. Unfortunately, she has to live with the jerk from high school who ruined her senior year.

But she gets a glimpse of the man behind Cole’s larger-than-life persona, and she likes what she sees. He might be used to living for himself, but he works hard to change his ways and meet the needs of these lost and scared girls. It doesn’t take long for her to enter dangerous territory–falling for a guy who’s never going to settle down.

Except…as much as Cole keeps saying he can’t wait to get his freedom back…he can’t deny these girls–and okay, even Hailey–have become the very best part of his life.

And he’s not quite sure what to do about that.

Erika Kelly is one of my favorite authors because she knows how to paint a picture. In her newest book, Love Me Like You Do, she writes an emotional story about two people going through some heartbreaking circumstances and falling in love along the way.

I loved reading Cole and Hailey’s story. They knew each other in high school and circumstances brought them back together again. Cole and Hailey have to deal with tough issues and make difficult decisions, not only about their lives, but the two little girls that have been entrusted into their care.

Cole and Hailey are both careful with their hearts. They yearn for a home and family, something neither one of them grew up with. The small town of Calamity is the perfect place for them both to heal, love and live.

Cole is a professional hockey player whose whole life revolves around hockey, and he is shocked when he discovers his best friend has died and left him in charge of his two daughters. Cole is such a great guy; he deserves to have everything. He is successful and charming, yet he is insecure when it comes to Hailey. Cole loves everything about Hailey, but she is clueless.

Hailey is working every waking minute trying to make it as a designer in New York when she rushes back to Calamity after being told she is now co guardian of two little girls.

Cole and Hailey have unresolved issues from the past that they slowly resolve as they spend time together. They are perfect for each other, and I easily fell into this wonderful story and kept reading because I needed to know what would happen next. I highly recommend this one.

*Princess and the Player by Isla Madden-Mills

*Princess and the Player by Isla Madden-Mills
Publisher: Montlake
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

Levelheaded Francesca Lane never thought she’d miss her own wedding. But when her fiancé betrays her, she puts on her wedding dress and ditches the altar for a masquerade ball—at an exclusive lifestyle club.

There, she meets unknown-to-her NFL star Tuck Avery, dressed as a prince and hiding behind a mask—he’s there to celebrate his birthday. For one night, Francesca and Tuck indulge in a wickedly incognito affair. No names. No strings. And the masks don’t come off.

Unfortunately, Francesca realizes quickly that her masked prince is the wealthy jock who lives in the penthouse of her apartment building. His hobbies include parties and supermodels—or so the tabloids say. Getting tangled up with a shallow jerk is the last thing Francesca needs right now, so she vows to keep Tuck from recognizing her (not that she’s his type anyway).

But fate has a teeny-tiny trick up her sleeve…a plus sign on a pregnancy test. Can this tormented prince accept love, or will he push his princess away forever?

I loved reading Tuck and Francesca’s story. When they meet there is an immediate connection, and they have one incredible night together. After that night, neither one of them has any expectations of ever meeting again, but fate has other ideas.

I found Tuck easy to like. He Is successful in football, but unfortunately, his personal life is a mess. At thirty-five he is the oldest wide receiver in football, and he is not sure what he will do when his football career is over. Tuck’s life seems to be going downhill and he isn’t sure what to do about it. When Tuck meets Francesca again, he wants to spend time with her, but he has a hard time convincing her it’s a good idea.

I easily connected with Tuck and Francesca, and I was rooting for them because they both deserve some good in their lives. I felt sorry for them because neither of them has had an easy life, they are both flawed and have baggage from their pasts.

This is a wonderfully written story and it left me with a good feeling. Tuck and Francesca are perfect for each other.

They are interesting, easy to connect with and I enjoyed all of their encounters. I also enjoyed the odd assortment of friends in this story. They add a lot of laughter and entertainment. I highly recommend the Princess and the Player.