Second Chance for the Heart Doctor by Susan Carlisle


Second Chance for the Heart Doctor by Susan Carlisle
Atlanta Children’s Hospital
Publisher: Harlequin
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Will the children’s cardiologist put his heart on the line for the new pediatric nurse? Find out in Susan Carlisle’s latest Harlequin Medical Romance story.

Risking his locked-away heart…

After his ex ran off with his best friend, cardiologist Jenson’s sole focus is his small patients. But the fireworks that erupt when he meets dedicated nurse Bayley are too powerful to ignore… Both are determined to put their jobs ahead of romance, but beautiful Bayley continues to captivate him. Is the guarded doctor ready to embrace a second chance?

Tough circumstances, but tender hearts.

I love the works of Susan Carlisle and will auto-buy her books. This one was no exception. I loved the storytelling, the characters and the developments.

Bayley and Jenson are great together. They’ve been through a lot of tough situations, since both work in the children’s hospital setting. They’ve seen some beautiful things, but also some horrors. How they handle them and navigate love are the true balancing act.

The author writes these characters, who could be jaded and negative, in a very positive way. I rooted for them and wanted to see them get together. I got emotionally involved from page one.

If you’re looking for something tender and sweet, then this might be the book for you. Recommended.

Past Tense: A Matt Moulton Mystery by Michael Amedeo


Past Tense: A Matt Moulton Mystery by Michael Amedeo
Publisher: Level Best Books
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

As America races toward the supposedly bright new decade of the 1950s, disillusioned white private dick, Matt Moulton finds himself faltering in the dark. Should he serve an amnesiac client whose recovering memories of paid murder intensify his own wartime guilt as an assassin? Should he risk endangering the person he loves, a beautiful black woman, for information on that case and an apparently related one? Does he imagine he can save her and himself from the corruption, the intolerance, and the apathy that linger in that violent nation’s shadows?

Taking place in a misty, sulky San Francisco, “Past Tense” appeals to readers who love their thrillers hardboiled. It brings pulp fiction back from the past, but here, the genre seems more modern and yet more noir-like than ever before.

Good murderers cover their tracks. Can a good detective foil the murderer’s plans before too many more people die?

The main storyline was fast-paced and interesting. I enjoyed taking note of the clues Matt found and trying to figure out why so many people connected to this case kept turning up dead. There was plenty of fodder for the imagination here, and my attention remained strong from the first scene to the last one.

I would have liked to see more character development in this novella, especially when it came to Matt. He was an intelligent but often conflicted protagonist. Learning more about his past and how it had shaped his personality would have made it easier for me to connect to him. I also found myself wishing he had shared more information about his feelings for Gina as she seemed to occupy many of his thoughts when he wasn’t focused on work. Exploring that relationship in more depth would have been a good way to showcase more of who Matt was when he wasn’t attempting to solve cases.

Speaking of Gina, I loved the romantic subplot between her and Matt. There were definitely sparks to be seen every time she showed up in his life. I appreciated how clearly they communicated their feelings to each other and found myself wishing they could find a way to overcome the racial prejudices of the late 1940s that were such a huge obstacle for them. My fingers are crossed that readers will get more opportunities to get to know her later on in this series as she seemed to be a level-headed and kind woman.

Past Tense: A Matt Moulton Mystery kept me guessing.

The Duke’s Proposal for the Governess by Eleanor Webster


The Duke’s Proposal for the Governess by Eleanor Webster
Publisher: Harlequin
Genre: Historical, Romance
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

A wedding to save her from scandal

A bride to save his heart?

After the death of his beloved brother and mother, Randolph, the Duke of Elmsend, feels his life is empty. So, he’s in no mood to entertain the rambunctious Harrington family while they’re in London. Then he meets Abigail, their governess. When her reputation is in jeopardy, he does the unimaginable—propose! But whilst Randolph can offer her a ring, can he ever offer her a real marriage?

Two people who never would’ve found each other realize they’re meant to be.

I loved this story because it showed that love isn’t conventional. Randolph wasn’t looking for Abigail when he met her. Wasn’t expecting to fall in love. But anything is possible.

I loved that this book was well-written and fast-paced. I wanted to know what would happen to the characters and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. Abigail and Randolph are sweet and perfect for each other. They’re great characters and it was fun following their story.

If you want a happy ever after that’s not run-of-the-mill, then pick this one up. I loved it.

Scars by G.A. Bassier


Scars by G.A. Bassier
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance, Paranormal, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

They say love can heal all wounds…but some scars may run too deep.

Eight months ago, while in a werewolf rage, Lily escaped her cage and killed an innocent person. Every moment since then, Lily’s guilt has grown heavier and more suffocating. Just as it threatens to engulf her, she meets a kind stranger who is struggling through his own turmoil after losing his beloved wife.

Sitting in a coffee shop with Jack, Lily smiles for the first time in eight long, dark months. She and Jack love all the same things: Star Wars, banana bread, even cheesy eighties movies. In spite of her lingering guilt, Lily starts to fall for him. Jack makes it easy. He trusts her. He worries about her. He never compares her to his lost love. Jack makes Lily want to live again–and she does the same for him.

There’s just one problem:

The innocent person Lily killed was Jack’s wife.

It’s never too late to turn things around and try again.

The premise of this novella grabbed my attention immediately, and I thought the author handled the dilemma of a werewolf falling in love with the widower of the woman she accidentally killed in a sensitive and beautiful manner. The tension between their developing relationship and Lily’s terrible secret made it impossible for me to stop reading. Of course, she would have no idea how to bring this topic up to Jack and would struggle to figure out what to do!

Given the tragedy that brought them together, it made total sense for things to develop slowly and unevenly between Jack and Lily. This was exactly what needed to happen in order for me as a reader to want them to live happily ever after, and their chemistry was perfect. What made it even more impressive was the fact that the characters evolved from meeting each other, to falling in love, to discovering the truth, to reaching the climax of this tale within such a short time period. Many authors would need a few hundred pages to reach the same conclusions, so getting it done in about forty pages instead was impressive.

I was blown away how many layers of detail and meaning the author was able to include as well. Yes, the main plotline was romantic, but the writing also included thoughtful messages about the meaning of life and how one can begin to heal from something that may feel insurmountable. This is the sort of story I’d especially recommend to readers who might not normally like the romance genre but who are willing to try the cream of the crop of it.

Scars couldn’t have been better. Bravo!

Wild Irish Yenta by Joyce Sanderly


Wild Irish Yenta by Joyce Sanderly
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Do killers, stock manipulators, and kidnappers stalk the Temple? After the body of Roberto Gomez is discovered in Temple Israel’s parking lot, Patricia Weiss, nee Reilly, exchanges her suburban-mom sneakers for gumshoes to investigate the supposed hit-and-run. Inspired by her police detective dad, Patricia feels compelled to uncover who killed the hardworking custodian and why. Before she can progress with her investigation or work on problems in her difficult marriage to a busy cardiologist, and his controlling Jewish mother, she is plunged into the Temple’s troubles. Her mentor Rabbi Deborah, who has guided Patricia through her own recent conversion to Judaism, disappears after delivering a controversial sermon in support of interfaith marriage. Despite her husband’s concerns, Patricia joins forces with her buddy Brenda. Designating themselves The Yenta Patrol, they unravel the mysteries.

Not everything is as simple as it may first appear to be.

Patricia was a memorable and likeable protagonist. She was insatiably curious about the world around her, and sometimes this led her to making decisions that her cautious husband disagreed with. I appreciated the way the author shared both of their perspectives on what are and are not acceptable risks to take in life. It made sense given the cultural differences between Patricia and Michael, and it also helped me to understand her as a character better. No one is perfect, after all, but this flaw was a good way for the audience to understand where she was coming from and why she assumed the world was a much safer place than her husband did. Novels that encourage readers to pause for a moment and think about the assumptions we all make in life before going on to reveal what happens when two people have opposite reactions to the same situation are part of the reason why I have continued to review books for so many years. Reading and reviewing are excellent ways to explore the world through other perspectives.

As much as I enjoyed learning more about Patricia and her relationships with everyone around her, I struggled with the slow pacing of this book. More time was spent exploring what various members of the synagogue thought about each other than pushing the plot forward with more clues about why Roberto Gomez died or why Rabbi Deborah disappeared. This made it difficult at times for me to remain engaged with the plot since it often took quite a while for the next important twist to be revealed.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that showed the long process Patricia went through to convert to Judaism. There were classes to attend, holy texts to study, and cultural and religious traditions to start observing. What made it even more interesting to me was to see the wide range of reactions her conversion elicited from other members of her temple, from deep suspicions about her motives to total acceptance and everything in between those two possibilities. There was so much depth and emotion included in those passages that they sped up the reading process for me when they happened despite my earlier criticisms about the pacing.

Wild Irish Yenta kept me guessing.

*Liar’s Point by Laura Griffin


*Liar’s Point by Laura Griffin
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

Two homicide detectives must separate the puzzling truth from a growing web of lies while investigating a murder victim’s friends and lovers in Lost Beach, Texas.

Detective Nicole Lawson is fed up with her job and nonexistent love life. Her first date in months gets cut short by an urgent call from the chief of police. A body has been discovered at Lighthouse Point, and the medical examiner finds an array of strange clues. When the death is ruled a homicide, the news quickly reverberates through Nicole’s beachside hometown.

The Lost Beach police department swings into high gear. Leading the investigation is Emmet Davis, a veteran detective who is Nicole’s fiercest rival at work and also the man she has secretly harbored feelings toward for years. With Emmet calling the shots, Nicole sets out to search for leads, starting with the enigmatic yoga instructor who first discovered the body. Nicole is certain the witness knows more than she’s revealing and may even hold the key to unlocking the case.

When another person turns up dead under suspicious circumstances, Nicole sees a bizarre pattern, but no one believes her theory. Under the gun to solve the case, Nicole must put aside her tumultuous feelings and work closely with Emmet to figure out who is targeting her beloved hometown . . . before she becomes a target herself.

I’m always excited when Laura Griffin comes out with a new book because she is one of my favorite authors. She knows how to write intense, suspenseful stories that keep me quickly turning the pages to find out what will happen next.

Nicole and Emmett are the two main characters in her newest book, Liar’s Point. They are detectives working together on a case involving a murdered woman. Nicole and Emmett are dedicated and hardworking and although they are attracted to each other, they are afraid to admit their feelings.

I loved everything about this story, especially Nicloe. Nicole is a fearless and dedicated detective. She has to work twice as hard as her male peers but is still treated differently because she is a woman. She has had a crush on Emmett since high school, but she is afraid to act on her attraction because it could ruin her career.

All the characters in this story are interesting, the plot is riveting, and the writing is spot on. I enjoyed all of Emmett and Nicole’s interactions and felt the chemistry between them. This story kept me on the edge of my seat, and I wasn’t sure who the murderer was until the very end.

Beyond Mortal Bounds – Memoir of a Ghost by Gina Easton


Beyond Mortal Bounds – Memoir of a Ghost by Gina Easton
Publisher: Touch Point Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Heather Radcliffe, a successful author, is approached by Fiona, a ghost, to write Fiona’s memoir. What follows is a tale of love, betrayal, madness and the quest for atonement. It is the story of two women—one living, one dead—and the man they both love . . . and the issue of love’s ability to endure beyond death itself.

Death is the beginning, not the end.

The dialogue was smooth and believable. Often I could tell who was speaking before I finished the sentence because of how uniquely the two main characters were written. As much as they had in common, there were important differences between them that influenced how they spoke. It takes a lot of work to pull something like this off, so I must acknowledge the effort there and share my gratitude for it. This is the sort of flourish in a story that makes reading even more enjoyable than it already is.

I was surprised by how quickly Heather believed the ghosts who approached her for help. As much as I liked her innocent and trusting personality, there were times when I wondered why she didn’t make any efforts to verify what she was told and only spent a small amount of time trying to protect herself from anything in the spirit world that might try to attach itself to her. There was one scene that described a ritual she went through after talking to spirits in order to discourage them from sticking around. This reader was fascinated by that process and wished that the protagonist had spent more time describing it as well as taking additional precautions to protect herself from spirits she was still getting to know.

Some of the most memorable moments in my opinion were the ones that explored Heather’s previous lifetimes and how they helped to explain why her personality clicked so well with certain people she met in her most recent body. Reincarnation is an interesting explanation for why this happens, especially when it is explored in fiction that shows how those individuals knew each other in previous lives and why their fates have remained so tightly entwined. This is a trope I’m always happy to discover in books, and I thought Ms. Easton made good use of it here.

Beyond Mortal Bounds: Memoir of a Ghost was satisfying.

*The Stranger I Wed by Harper St. George


*The Stranger I Wed by Harper St. George
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group, Berkley
Genre: Historical, Romance
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

New to wealth and to London high society, American heiress Cora Dove discovers that with the right man, marriage might not be such an inconvenience after all. . . .

Cora Dove and her sisters’ questionable legitimacy has been the lifelong subject of New York’s gossipmongers and a continual stain on their father’s reputation. So when the girls each receive a generous, guilt-induced dowry from their dying grandmother, the sly Mr. Hathaway vows to release their funds only if Cora and her sisters can procure suitable husbands—far from New York. For Cora, England is a fresh start. She has no delusions of love, but a husband who will respect her independence? That’s an earl worth fighting for.

Enter: Leopold Brendon, Earl of Devonworth, a no-nonsense member of Parliament whose plan to pass a Public Health bill that would provide clean water to the working class requires the backing of a wealthy wife. He just never expected to crave Cora’s touch or yearn to hear her thoughts on his campaign—or to discover that his seemingly perfect bride protects so many secrets…

But secrets have a way of bubbling to the surface, and Devonworth has a few of his own. With their pasts laid bare and Cora’s budding passion for women’s rights taking a dangerous turn, they’ll learn the true cost of losing their heart to a stranger—and that love is worth any price.

Harper St. George knows how to write a rich and satisfying story with characters that are entertaining and interesting. I loved this enchanting historical story set in the late 1800’s so much, I never wanted it to end.

Cora, the eldest of the Dove sisters, must marry a titled gentleman to gain her inheritance, so she and her two sisters travel to England to find a groom. When Cora arrives in London, she meets an assortment of potential husbands including Devenworth.

Devenworth needs a rich bride to save his ancestral home. Although he is attracted to Cora, he ultimately marries her for her dowry. They marry first and slowly fall in love as they become acquainted with each other. The more they learn about each other, the deeper they fall. However, they are afraid to let down their guard and trust each other completely.

I loved Devenworth and Cora together and enjoyed all of their encounters. Sparks would fly whenever they were together, and I found myself immediately immersed in their story. I felt like I was right there with them, and I easily connected with all the characters.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and can’t wait to read future stories featuring the two other Dove sisters.

Mrs. Holloway’s Christmas Pudding by Jennifer Ashley


Mrs. Holloway’s Christmas Pudding by Jennifer Ashley
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Historical, Holiday, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

December 1882

When Cook Kat Holloway is blamed when a dinner guest mysteriously takes ill after eating one of her meals, she sets out to prove she had nothing to do with the gentleman’s sickness. She discovers a whole host of people who might wish to do away with the man, and she and her friends—Daniel McAdam, Lady Cynthia, Mr. Thanos, and various members of the household staff—begin to hunt for the would-be killer.

Simultaneously tasked with crafting the perfect Christmas feast, including the pièce de résistance, the Christmas plum pudding, Kat frantically works to finish all, fearing she’ll have to choose between stopping a murderer and cherishing her few precious Christmas moments with her daughter.

When a guess of her employer falls mysteriously ill, Mrs Holloway is irritated when her food is instantly blamed – despite the gentlemen being the only member of the dinner party having an adverse effect. Determined to not let any whispers grow and cause trouble, Mrs Holloway is determined to investigate what is really occurring. Can she and her friends work out what’s going on while Kat simultaneously plans and cooks the perfect Christmas feast and also attempts to spend a few precious moments with her young daughter.

This is the third short story I have enjoyed set in this historical world by the author. I have enjoyed them all and equally enjoy the fact that other than the same time setting they can easily be read and thoroughly enjoyed on their own merits, and they aren’t really linked other than the characters connections. While a little suspension of belief is required – I simply can’t imagine a cook interacting so freely and warmly with any of the above-stairs people, nor having the freedom of movement to investigate a crime nor make speeches about who the dastardly villain really is etc – I nevertheless found this a well-paced and thoroughly refreshing read. Kat and her love interest, Daniel were vibrant and very well written characters and with a strong cast of equally engaging secondary characters there was plenty to hook any reader.

I also feel readers who usually don’t enjoy historical stories should feel comfortable giving this book a try. The mystery is fairly simple, but there were enough layers and twists to keep me engaged and while the historical setting was lovely, I didn’t feel like our noses were pushed too hard into it. I really feel the author has done a commendable job balancing the characters, the plot and the pacing of this Christmassy story. The blossoming romance between Mrs Holloway and Daniel is quite chaste – merely a few kisses – so readers more used to reading mystery shouldn’t find the romance aspect to the plot too overpowering.

Readers who are unsure whether to dip their feet into the connected full-length series should absolutely give this novella a try – for the cheaper price and shorter length I think it’s a lovely gateway into the world and series by this author and is in and of itself a thoroughly enjoyable short story. Recommended.

If the Fates Allow: A Short Story by Rainbow Rowell


If the Fates Allow: A Short Story by Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: Self-Published, Amazon Original Stories
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Dicentra

Social distancing came easily to Reagan. Maybe a little too easily. She’s always liked people better from afar. But Reagan doesn’t want her grandpa to be alone for Christmas this year—he’s already spent too much time on his own in 2020. So she heads back to her hometown with a dish of holiday Jell-O salad, hoping they can have a little normalcy. Hoping it will be safe…

She isn’t expecting to run into the boy next door. Mason is all grown up now. He’s considerate. He’s funny. He doesn’t mind how prickly Reagan is—he maybe even likes it. And it makes Reagan feel like her defenses are falling. She needs her defenses, doesn’t she? In a time when six feet is close enough, how long can they keep their distance?

With a title that’s a spin on Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, Rainbow Rowell’s If the Fates Allow is a sweet short story of a holiday romance read. Set in the same world as her young adult novel Fangirl (though not directly connected), it tells the story of two people who meet in the time of social distancing and find a unique connection.

While COVID has upended all of our lives since 2020, I wasn’t expecting it to be the setting of a romance. I think the author did a good job acknowledging the realities of COVID (i.e., the isolation, people who don’t believe in measures like masks or vaccines) while also including some lighthearted moments in an attempt to balance out the dark cloud that is COVID. Reagan does worry a lot about the pandemic, but I actually found myself empathizing with her given I experienced those concerns myself. While this book is marketed as a romance, I was admittedly more invested in Reagan’s relationship with her grandfather and the rest of her family rather than with Mason (the boy-next-door love interest). Fear not, however – the romance was still cute and well-written.

Audiobook narrators are usually a plus for me, but I actually found it preferable to read in print rather than listen because narrator Rebecca Lowman’s performance was a bit dry. She didn’t really change tone over the course of the read, and there weren’t different voices for the various characters either. I was hoping for a bit more animation, but that didn’t happen, so it did negatively impact my enjoyment of the read a bit.

Overall, this was an entertaining read. I would have hoped for something a bit longer (more of a novella length than short story), but it was satisfying as is. I would recommend it to Hallmark Christmas movie fans who are looking for something short to read. Bonus points if you have Kindle Unlimited, as it’s free to read on that service.

TRIGGER WARNINGS: COVID, Grief, Death of a Grandparent (in the past), Messy Family Relationships