Review: The Beauty Bride by Claire Delacroix

Trigger Warning: Attempted sexual assault

I read The Beauty Bride to check the Medieval romance box in the Reading Embrace. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. It started pretty strong, I like the banter between siblings, but I’m still just kinda…. hmm.

The general synopsis, thanks to Amazon, is:
“Lady Madeline’s heart is not for sale…especially not to a notorious outlaw like Rhys FitzHenry. Yet Madeline’s hand has been sold, to none other than this battle-weary warrior with a price on his head. A more dutiful maiden might cede to the Laird’s command and meekly accept her fate, but Madeline has never been obedient. She decides to run away, though she never dreams that Rhys will pursue her. She does not expect this taciturn man to woo her with fanciful stories, much less that each of his enthralling tales will reveal a scar upon his shielded soul. She never imagines that a man like Rhys could imperil her own heart while revealing so little of his own feelings. When Rhys’s past threatens his future, Madeline takes a leap of faith. She dares to believe him innocent
— and risks her own life to pursue a passion more priceless than the rarest gem.”

So a couple of things came up for me while reading this book. First, everyone gets real chill with Alexander auctioning off his sister real quick. By the end of it everyone is like ‘aw shucks Alex you tried a thing’ and I was still very much Team What The Hell Dude Don’t Auction Your Sister. Similarly, the hero tells the heroine, after they get married and have sex, that if she can’t produce a male heir he’ll just hire a prostitute and do it that way just like his dad did. This is also never rescinded and we’re just kinda meant to go ‘aw shucks Rhys you heir happy sonofagun’ and be fine with that. Also, I’m all for his mother not being presented in a terrible light because sex work is valid work, but they did turn his stepmom (his dad’s wife) into a literal villain and I feel like her anger (if not her actions) are incredibly valid. So that was complicated for me.

The pacing was rough. The hero kept telling stories to Madeline that enthralled her but bored the everloving fuck out of me. It was a little history happy and the fairy character felt thoroughly unnecessary and gimmicky. Wow as I write this I guess I really didn’t like it that much, huh. I think the problem is that I wanted to like it so much and like I said it started pretty strong but it sure did sink pretty quickly. I don’t feel compelled to read the rest of the series even though some of the premises sound interesting because fool me once, shame on you fool me twice, still shame on you, write better books.

That might be unfair. The book wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t for me.

Review: Time Out by Jill Shalvis

Trigger Warning: Discussions of domestic violence

Quick note – if you look at the initial Reading Embrace post I made about what books I was going to read and notice that 75% of them are not what I ended up reading, please know that it doesn’t mean I started and DNF’d all of them. It just means I lost the plot somewhere in the middle of the year and didn’t read anything for the Embrace for a long time and suddenly had to start scarfing some down and chose quicker reads.

I read Time Out to fill the Sportsball category in the Reading Embrace. This was my first sports romance and my first Jill Shalvis book and will probably be my last for both.

Amazon Synopsis:
“NHL coach Mark Diego’s plan to spend his off-season volunteering in his hometown goes awry when he learns that not only is he coaching teenage girls, but that the program is coordinated by energetic (and five feet two inches of trouble) coordinator Rainey Saunders, his childhood friend—and the woman he could never stand to see dating any other guy….
When their tempers flare, Mark and Rainey discover their fireworks don’t just burn angry—they burn very, very hot! But that’ll just sweeten the victory. Because Mark always plays to win. And with Rainey, he’s planning on playing very dirty, too…”

Here’s the thing, I love baseball. I’ve been rooting for the Mariners since I was a little girl in the 90s watching games on TV with my grandpa. One of the highlights of the decade was finally going to a Mariners game. But even with my love of the sport, the only time in this book I wasn’t annoyed was when the people were having well written sex and even then sometimes I rolled my eyes.

I didn’t really care about or like the characters. And my mandatory reporting self was enraged by the clumsy mishandling of the domestic violence subplot where a student is very clearly being abused and the heroine decides that the way to handle it is to THREATEN the abuser with reporting which, shock and awe, only increases the violence. They get an HEA but I wasn’t happy about it. Bah humbug.

Review: The Fairy Bride by Tess Mallory

This is the last Mallory work I’ll review here and it’s going to be quick because it was a novella. Mallory wrote The Fairy Bride with the intent to possibly go back and flesh it out to become a full length novel. At this point I don’t believe she’s done this but you can tell that she was writing something she loved when you read this story.

The prose is very reminiscent of a fanfic story you write in high school and that is not an insult. High school fanfic writers are as varied in talent as any grown up, published author. What they have that sometimes gets lost over time is a deep love of what they’re writing that translates from page to reader. Mallory is clearly dipping into a world that’s been on her mind for awhile and I really appreciated getting that sense from her which was nostalgic for me. Unfortunately, that’s about all I can say for the story.

It’s a simple tale of a fairy king who has to marry or his country will be invaded (there’s bloodline stuff involved in this) and there is a soulmate for him to find and once he does they will both be in love. He is sent to where his soulmate is and there she is, a human who is engaged to a dick of a man (a trend in Mallory’s writing). She ends up leaving him, she falls instantly in love with the fairy king as he does with her, and they thwart an evil plan to overthrow the kingdom and everything ends happily.

It don’t have any specific complaints here as I did in the last works by this author. It just didn’t grab me and I found some of the worldbuilding hurried and a bit complicated. If she did write this series I don’t think I’d read it simply because fairies aren’t typically my jam and how they are in this series isn’t bad but definitely doesn’t speak to me. If you enjoy fairies and felt things as a child while watching Thumbelina (and to be honest I did too but then Dmitri happened) you should give it a read. It’s not a huge time investment and it may spark the desire to go back to doing some fanfiction writing yourself.

Review: Highland Fling by Tess Mallory

To continue the metaphor from Highland Dream, you know when you’re eating that thing that you’re not really enjoying but it’s hitting something you can’t identify so even though you finish it and think oh god thank god it’s done but then you grab ANOTHER serving of it? That was this book’s experience.

In Highland Fling, the heroine is a briefly mentioned friend of Jix’s, Chelsea, who is a Boring, Spinsterish, Plain, Hopeless, Wallflower of a woman whose friends constantly try to remake her, tear her down constantly, and then slut shame her when she wears something spicy in an attempt to embrace her sexuality a bit. Oh, also she’s a PhD level scientist who is brilliant but gosh dang if she doesn’t have babies her life is worthless! This isn’t me extrapolating, it’s pretty explicitly expressed by Sam who continues her reign as rancid bitch (I did not read the third book because it featured her and I do not feel Sam deserves an HEA tbh).

There is a lot of time traveling in this book and I enjoyed the unique premise. This premise is the friend from the first book, Griffin, travels to contemporary Scotland and runs into his friends who had successfully gone back to their time at the end of the first book. Chelsea’s friends refuse to let her in on what happened, leaving her feeling left out and hurt which is completely understandable. She grows close to Griffin and they end up time traveling to the old west to find his cousin who he discovers accidentally traveled there and was hung for a crime Griffin is sure he could not have committed.

Once in the old west there is some fun stuff that happens. Chelsea comes out of her shell a bit when she’s taken in by the Madame at a saloon and does some dancing and enjoys herself for probably the first time in her whole life. Griffin reunites with his cousin and there’s a good old fashioned jailbreak. The protagonists are also both virgins and that’s not common, especially when you have a contemporary person in one of the pair. I was happy for them when they got their HEA, happier than I was in the first book because I actually liked Chelsea even though I wanted to shake her and tell her that her friends were toxic and she should get therapy for her low self-esteem. I was also happy to see Griffin get his HEA because he was a sweetheart in the first one and a genuinely good character. The two deserve each other in the best way. In hindsight I think I enjoyed this one better than the first (at least after they left behind Sam and Jix) but again, I don’t feel compelled to read on because Sam deserves nothing good from this world and I don’t know or care about the characters in the rest of the series.

Highland Dream by Tess Mallory

Trigger Warning: Domestic Violence

You know when you bite into something, like a greasy junk food, and there’s a part of you that’s like “ugh this is conceptually gross and I don’t even totally enjoy it” but you can’t stop eating it? That was me and this book.

Highland Dream is a time travel romance featuring possibly my least favorite heroine I’ve ever read. Jessica Isobel Xavier (who goes by Jix) is known for a couple of things: her tragic past with tone-joltingly rough domestic violence and lying. About everything. For fun. Just for kicks. Cuz she’s Just That Quirky. She is meant to instill a consistent vein of humor throughout the novel but most of the time it just read like slapstick which is a medium best presented visually. Oh, also Jix gets prophetic dreams, so that also adds to her Quirk factor.

The basic premise is that Jix has a dream where she sees her best friend Sam in a wedding dress next to a gorgeous Scotsman. The trouble is that her friend is currently engaged to a guy who’s a jerk and Sam’s father enlists Jix’s help breaking up the relationship because apparently Jix is the only person allowed to make her own choices and grow through mistakes and everyone else must have their autonomy violated. So quirk, so fun. She pulls this off not by having a serious talk with her friend about her concerns but by getting her friend drunk on the plane and transferring them to a plane headed to Scotland where they are going to stay at an airbnb. If a man did what Jix did this would be the plot of a Lifetime movie but Jix is Quirky so it’s all just in good fun.

Fast forwarding past Sam’s very valid anger and bewilderment at being brought to Scotland, ruining her wedding and taking her to another country against her knowledge or will, and Jix demanding it’s fine because after all Sam tried to talk Jix out of her marriage before and this is the same thing. Probably. Sure.

They get to Scotland and who opens the door to the old Scottish manor house they’ll be staying at but the very gorgeous Scot that Jix saw in her dream? Jamie MacGregor has a backstory about how he’s in the CIA or some equivalent but honestly it hardly comes into play so just know that he’s gorgeous, he’s trained to Fight, and he’s there. He and Jix immediately hit it off and Jix keeps trying to force Sam to be around the guy when the woman just wants to go to bed. This turns into a clumsy scene where they are all touching the man’s sword (not a euphemism) and Jamie speaks his family’s motto in gaelic and the sword glows and poof they are transported to Highland times Scotland.

In this interpretation of time travel your hair and clothes automatically also change so when they get to Highland times Jix’s hair has grown long and flowing and his is also longer. No clue how Sam’s hair looks because she isn’t there. They are captured and brought to a castle where their identities are mistaken for the contemporary MacGregor clan and an agreement is struck that Jamie will help them with a heist and marry his “sister” Jix to the clan leader and they will get the sword back. Jix keeps insisting that he fall in love with Sam, he has no idea why she’s so determined and even though they are literally back in time she doesn’t think he’ll believe her if she tells him that the reason she’s so insistent is because she has prophetic dreams. They fall into a pattern of arguing, boning, her being distant for no reason and lying to him consistently about why, her being mad when he lies about things, wash, rinse, repeat. They eventually find Sam and that’s a whole complicated thing about Romani people that was a bit cringey.

One of the reasons I think I kept reading was that Mallory isn’t a poor writer. The pacing was good, it was crafted well, and I loved a side character in the novel who became a friend of Jix’s and I bought and read the second because it featured him getting an HEA.

In the end of course it’s all happy and fine but it takes 75% of the book before Jix tells Jamie the truth. I just can’t with consistent lying you guys. That’s probably one of the reasons I really struggled with Jix. Still, as I said, I did buy and read the second book because there was just this strange pull to Mallory’s work. Most reviews talk about how hilarious they found the book so I might just be a snob or it may have just hit me wrong for some reason. I’d say give it a shot but be aware that if you don’t like when the major conflict is people not just talking to each other, this is going to be a hard one for you.

Review: A Wreath of Snow by Liz Curtis Higgs

I read A Wreath of Snow to fulfill the Sherlock Holmes Times (aka Victorian era) requirement for the Reading Embrace. It was a novella, a trend you may be picking up on at this point. Basically I hit a certain month (I want to say November) and realized I was roughly 19 books behind schedule so I started just binging novellas. It isn’t cheating because it is still books!

The synopsis for this novella was a little darker than I expected. The heroine, Margaret Campbell, is heading back to her home instead of spending Christmas with her family because her brother is an utter shit. He’s rude, demanding, and critical and no one feels they can criticize him because he’s been this way since he was paralyzed from the waist down when a drunken curler yeeted a stone at his back by accident when he was 10. Margaret has always blamed herself because she was there and his big sister but couldn’t protect him or make it better. Now she feels guilty because she can’t bring herself to stay and deal with her brother’s assholery and to that I say brava. There need to be more stories with characters who don’t let family treat them like crap just because they share blood and it’s the holidays. Unfortunately for Margaret her plans are halted when their train hits too much snow and she and the rest of the passengers are forced to walk back to town.

Also on this train is Mr. Gordon, an attractive newspaperman who keeps glancing at Margaret as if he knows her but won’t introduce himself. They finally get to know each other as they walk back though it takes him awhile to share an important truth with her – He isn’t “Mr. Gordon” as he’s been letting her call him, he is Gordon Shaw, the man who drunkenly maimed her brother in a Christmas curling accident years before. He fled town after that horrible accident when he was not allowed to apologize or try and make amends and his family left as well which he always felt was because of his reputation.

The two get back safely where Margaret is met by her parents who are not critical as she would anticipate but instead very grateful she is safe and eager to invite her, and the handsome stranger who walked with her, to their home for Christmas. Margaret begs Gordon not to ruin her family’s Christmas by sharing the truth with them but all comes out, including a family secret no one could have anticipated.

I don’t read many stories where redemption is a primary theme. It was also a very chaste romance and felt almost like an Inspirational Romance but I can’t say for sure it was because I haven’t read any of those. It was a fairly quick read and it didn’t make much of an impression on me but it was pleasant and fit the season well.

Review: Reindeer Falls Series by Jana Aston

Merry Christmas!

This is going to be a three-in-one post because these three are all short novellas and set on/around Christmas! Also, I really enjoyed them! I feel like some of my reviews recently have been a little snarky and while I stand by those opinions I don’t want it to seem like I’m some book Scrooge who hate reads things just to share grumpy snarks on her blog.

Quick primer on the world so I don’t have to repeat as I go and you all have a baseline of understanding of the world these stories inhabit. Each of these stories are about a different Winter sister (Holly, Ginger, and Noel) in their Christmas loving small town of Reindeer Falls. Picture a Hallmark movie except there’s hot sex and you get this world. Also, the books run concurrently and overlap a bit which was actually done well and didn’t get confusing for me so shoutout to Aston for that.

Book 1. The Boss Who Stole Christmas

Middle sister Holly is up first in the series. Her story is a bit of a billionaire and enemies to lovers mix. She works at the local toy company and has a grinch of a boss,, Nick St-Croix, who always seems to rain on her parade. They are expanding a service that she’s in charge of and because it’s based on a store in Germany (where grinch boss lived for a few years) he  insists she come with him to talk with the people in charge and get inspiration. She rails against it but ultimately goes along. In Germany, grinch boss shows a softer side and their flirtation goes from snarky to full on fooling around in an old cathedral. She nearly ruins things forever when she immediately jumps to pretending like it’s just casual and she doesn’t want anything more, assuming that’s what he wants, and hurts his feelings because guys… this grinch’s heart has grown three sizes along with other things over their holiday hookup and he has caught feelings for Holly.

One thing I love in this book and the rest is the relationship between the sisters. They’re not afraid to call each other out on their BS and after Ginger gets after Holly for her behavior and reminds her that the other person in that relationship didn’t get to say how he felt before she told him how she decided he felt. Holly makes a grand gesture and they figure out the relationship and they get their holiday happily ever after because Aston knows what we’re looking for in romance.

Book 2. If You Give a Jerk a Gingerbread

Baby sister Ginger (yes she’s a redhead) is the heroine of the second story. She is a baker who longs to open her own bakery one day and even has the property picked out for when she can afford the down payment and mortgage. She is currently involved in a Great Gingerbread Bake Off competition which, if she wins, will help make all her dreams come true. Also a dream coming to life? Running into renowned celebrity British baker Keller James who pops into her bakery and admires her wares. She assumes he’s going to be a judge for the competition and feels betrayed when she finds out that he is actually a fellow contestant. In James’s defense, he never pretended to be anything else, and it is a genuine mixup. The pair get to know each other and their chemistry and steamy near-kisses are captured on camera and mentioned in the first book. It was fun to see how these scenes actually played out in this one. I won’t give away how the contest plays out but suffice it to say everyone’s dreams come true and Keller and Ginger find a way to be together to bake and cook and be adorable together for the rest of their lives.

Book 3. The One Night Stand Before Christmas

Finally, oldest sister Noel gets her story. She helps manage a charity drive which, due to the holiday, includes Santa. Her coworker guarantees that her younger brother will be around to help dress up so when an attractive younger looking man shows up and Noel asks if he’s the guy he agrees and becomes her Santa. Then that night Noel lives her best Santa Baby life by taking him home for a one night stand. Except this guy wasn’t her friend’s younger brother, he’s actually the grandson of one of the elderly clients of Noel’s who wrangles her into a blind date with him. As the truth comes out (a simple case of shared names and mistaken identity), the two have to deal with the growing feelings they share for each other and ultimately decide if they can be satisfied with just one night together.

Spoiler alert: Of course they can’t, they definitely end up together, HEA or bust.

The series as a whole is about 300ish pages and I read through them quickly. At times almost too cheesy, it was still exactly what it advertised and I was surprised by how well written it was especially when it came to the sibling relationships. I was happy for each couple and I understood why they were together. If you’re looking for a light, fun, holiday themed romance read, this little series is a good choice.

Review: The Party by Mona Ingram

The Party is the first in the Dear Santa holiday romance novella series by Mona Ingram. This review will be quick because the novella was quick and nothing happened.

I mean, things happened. A struggling catering employee relaxes a bit at the end of a big party for a fancy tech company at the invitation of a man she assumes is a fellow caterer. He is in fact the tech company’s mysterious CEO instead! Bum bum BUUUUUUUM!!

They are attracted to each other, he starts to court her, he meets her young brother who is on the autism spectrum and immediately takes him under his wing. The two fall in love and her brother gets his dream job and a girlfriend and everyone is happy forever and ever amen.

There’s no real conflict in this book. Even the reveal of who he is goes without much ado. I have nothing to really say against Ingram or her book. It read like how I play the Sims. Nothing bad happens because there’s a pleasant sense of escapism in entering a world where you can make things turn out ok. I can’t hate it, but I can’t say I feel compelled to read the rest of the series. Check it out for a little palate cleanser after something troubling or stressful happens in your life or in the books you’re reading.

Review: Remembering a Witch by Lauren Connolly

I was especially excited to get to this review because I know the author! Kind of! We both listen to Heaving Bosoms and are in the fan cult (which we had before MFM) and that’s how I heard about this book! You guys know that I love supporting self-publishing authors so here is another opportunity!

Remembering a Witch was the book I ultimately read for the Because Witches category of the Reading Embrace, after I disqualified Slouch Witch for that title. I’m so glad I did this. In the words of the author herself, “REMEMBERING A WITCH is a 16,000 word paranormal romance novelette perfect for people who like pumpkins, pit bulls, and professors with sexy ginger hair! This story is inspired by the autumn equinox and is just the thing to welcome in the colder seasons.”

Guess who loves all of those things?

*points at self*

Specific reasons I loved this include excellent pacing, likable characters, good sex, and a satisfying mystery and conclusion. It’s hard for me to share much because it is so short that I don’t want to spoil anything so those are the broad strokes. The synopsis does a better job selling you on this book than anything I could write, honestly. If you like those things, this book has those things. If you don’t like those things, you may still like it cuz it’s written well but also that’s ok and there are other books out there for you.

Review: The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

Tessa Dare was an author I approached cautiously. Not because I had heard bad things, the opposite in fact. I had heard her praises sung so loudly for so long that I didn’t know where to begin in her catalog and had that tiny fear that for some reason her work wouldn’t resonate for me and I would be the odd one out. I can’t speak for everyone who will read her, but this did not turn out to be the case for me.

The Duchess Deal is the first of her Girl Meets Duke series. A quick snapshot of the synopsis is a Duke (Ash, short for Ashbury) comes back from war horribly scarred and self-conscious and he has to marry to secure an heir. He has been recently spurned by his former fiancee so time is of the essence. Enter Emma Gladstone, wearing the wedding dress she crafted for his fiancee, demanding payment. He offers her a marriage instead and, spurred by her own financial need and the desire to help protect her unmarried pregnant friend, she accepts.

The story is some parts Beauty and the Beast, some parts the Phantom of the Opera, all parts good. Dare has a talent for creating interesting side characters, in this novel this not only includes the staff at the manor who are desperately trying to make the two fall in love, but also the small group of ladies who take Emma into their fold. Each of them have quirks and talents that are charming and I would read books based on each of their lives, romantic or not.

Ash is a broodier hero than I tend to enjoy but Dare wrote him in a way that it worked for me, especially when he goes to lengths such as blindfolds to keep his wife from seeing his scars which he is sure will make her fall out of love with him. I think part of what works for Dare is she presents common conflicts but gives them enough background and development that they’re understandable. In another book if a character’s sole hangup was that their spouse would hate their scars I would be a little annoyed because at a certain point you have to just face that. Dare provides Ash with some background that makes that fear very reasonable.

Also, neither of the protagonists are virgins, which I appreciated. I have no problem with a virgin hero (see my review of The Duchess War), but I find it a little easy and played out when a heroine is automatically a virgin in a romance. People have been having sex in or out of marriage since the dawn of time and I just like that being recognized.

I haven’t read the other two in the series yet but I think I will add them to my 2020 reading goal next to Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean and Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel.