In the Midst of Magic by Christian Cura

Publisher:

Date of publication: May 25th, 2022

Genre: Fantasy, LGBT

Purchase Links: Amazon

Goodreads Synopsis:

Meet Kara Hartman, a photojournalist who is hiding her magic from the world. Traumatized by her brother’s death, she wants nothing more to do with magic. But just when she thought she could neglect her gift, it becomes apparent that the universe has other plans for Kara. When she discovers that an old foe has broken out of prison, hellbent on destroying her new life, Kara has no choice but to embrace the only power that can stop her.


First Line:

“You look worried about something,” Anthony said strumming his guitar.

In the Midst of Magic by Christian Cura

When the author emailed me back in February and asked if I could read/review his book, I almost turned it down. I was still finalizing my vacation plans and wasn’t sure if I would even be able to read the book. But, once I read the blurb and some reviews, I felt I had to read it. I am glad that I did because this book was pretty darn good!!

In the Midst of Magic had an interesting (and magical) plotline. For years, Kara has been hiding her magical ability. She was traumatized by the fact that she couldn’t stop her best friend from using forbidden magic which also led to her brother’s death. She throws herself into her photojournalist job. But that all ends when she and her friend are attacked by demons while on assignment for the local paper. Her editor has decided she will document the exploits of the newest demon hunter: a woman named Selene. As Kara and Selene grow closer, an old enemy from Kara’s past has escaped from jail and has her sight set on killing Kara and sending the magical world into chaos. Can Kara and Selene stop her in time? And will they allow the feelings that they have for each other to grow into something more?

I had conflicting feelings for Kara. On the one hand, I liked her. I thought she had remarkable strength to overcome what happened to her in the past. But on the other hand, she rubbed me the wrong way. There is nothing specific that I can point out, but there were certain scenes where I just wanted to shake some sense into her. Thankfully my wanting to shake her didn’t come around very often, and I was able to admire the way she handled things in the book.

I loved Selene. She was very sure of herself and didn’t want a photojournalist tagging along while battling demons. I loved seeing her come around to Kara and eventually start to train and care about her. Now, Selene wasn’t perfect, and I loved that the author chose to allow that part of Kara and Selene’s storyline to go through. I also loved her origin story. She got started in the very thing that Kara and her friend were doing a story on. So, that rounded the story out.

While Thalia and Charlotte were the bad guys in the book, I couldn’t help but feel pity for them. In Thalia’s case, she was studying necromancy when the Council decided to outlaw it and then killed the head of the school. That turned her down the path she chose to take. In Charlotte’s case, a combination of things turned her bad. But the main thing was her mother’s death and the pull of forbidden knowledge. I believe that she didn’t mean to kill Anthony or her other friend, but it changed her once she did. I also understand why she was so focused on Kara. In Charlotte’s mind, Kara was the reason she was in jail, and it just festered until she was driven mad by it.

The storyline with Selene, Kara, and fighting the demons was terrific. The author detailed the fights and the different types of demons that Selene (and eventually Kara) were fighting. The author explained why the demons were being called forth and who was doing it. It did tie into Thalia’s and Charlotte’s storyline at the end.

Thalia and Charlotte’s storyline was the one I liked the most. I loved learning about the magical prison and the enforcers that ran it. I liked seeing how Thalia (in her memories and written in the present day) had risen through the ranks. I was fascinated by how the enforcers kept the prisoners from using their magic. When Thalia started the riot and released Charlotte and the other two prisoners, the storyline turned sinister. I will not go into much more, but it kept me on edge. I was a little sad about Charlotte’s part of the storyline. She was eaten up with hatred for Kara and her family, which erased everything else. I wish there could have been a different outcome for her, but it made sense to end the way it did.

I loved Selene and Kara’s romance. It was a slow burn, and they didn’t get together until halfway through the book. I could understand Selene and Kara’s unwillingness to commit to each other. Each had been burned, rather severely, by previous girlfriends. But once they committed, I loved how close they were. Of course, true love does not run smoothly, and the author introduced an ex of Selene’s to shake up the relationship. I wasn’t happy because Selene and Kara were a power couple. But the author took care of that pretty fast, and they were back on again!!

The sex scenes were scorching and graphic. There were points when I had to put down my Kindle to fan myself.

The end of In the Midst of Magic was good. The author wrapped up the storylines in ways that I liked. I wonder if the author will make a series out of this book. I would love to read more stories written in this universe.

I would recommend In the Midst of Magic to anyone over 21. There is graphic language, graphic sex, and graphic violence.

My Wife is Missing by D.J. Palmer

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Date of Publication: May 10th, 2022

Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Suspense, Psychological Thriller, Contemporary

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

A family vacation turns into a nightmare for Michael Hart when he discovers his wife and two children have disappeared from their New York City hotel room. Horrified, he fears they’ve been kidnapped. Michael’s frantic search to find them takes a shocking turn when he discovers that his wife, Natalie, appears to have left quite willingly, taking their children with her. The police want to know why, and so does Michael. But there may be a reason why Natalie ran, something Michael can’t tell the police — the truth about his past. While untangling his deceptions might be the key to locating Natalie, Michael knows it could also be his undoing. To find his wife, he must now turn to the one person capable of exposing all that he’s been hiding. Natalie thinks she has Michael all figured out and has hatched a plan to escape from him permanently. One detail, though, threatens to derail her efforts: sleep — or more accurately, the lack of it. Since the moment the shocking revelations about her husband came to light, Natalie’s insomnia has worsened to the point that she now suffers from delusions. Are her fears about Michael valid — or a symptom of her condition? With her children’s lives at risk, the stakes for Natalie could not be higher. On her own, running low on energy and resources, avoiding increasingly close calls with Michael — who is on the hunt and closing in fast — Natalie needs someone to turn to for help. But who can she trust when she can’t even trust herself?


First Line:

As Michael Hart rounded the corner to his hotel room, he saw a small, lifeless shape lying on the floor of the hallway.

My Wife is Missing by D.J. Palmer

My Wife is Missing is a fast-moving psychological thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Natalie and Michael have some martial/personal issues, and they decide to take a trip to New York City to reconnect. While Michael is out getting dinner, Natalie takes the kids and disappears. Michael is confused, angry, and concerned. Why? Because Natalie has had insomnia, and he fears the lack of sleep has made her irrational. What Michael doesn’t know is that Natalie has discovered some of Michael’s long-buried secrets, and those secrets have scared her enough to run. But hindering her is her severe insomnia, and she begins to wonder if what she saw and discovered were hallucinations brought on by it. Can Natalie trust herself to get to somewhere safe? Will Michael find her? Will she find out if what she saw/found out is the truth or hallucinations?

I was immediately intrigued by the blurb of this book. I don’t think I have ever read a book where insomnia was a huge and prevalent part of the plotline. I didn’t realize that severe insomnia could result in hallucinations/delusions.

Natalie was such an unreliable character, and I loved it. Her insomnia started when she realized Michael was cheating on her, and it kept getting worse throughout the book. I loved reading her detective work into Michael’s past and his affair. I also loved that when she decided to make a move, she made up her mind and did it. I was cheering for her as she out maneuvered Michael time and time again (even as exhausted as she was).

I wouldn’t say I liked Michael. But, he did gain a little bit of my respect with his detective skills. Even though Natalie was one step ahead of him for 90% of the book, he was close enough to get her a couple of times.

The storyline with Natalie, the kids, her insomnia, and being on the run kept me on the edge of my seat. I was internally cheering her on and wanting her to get to her final destination without Michael finding her. I was a little disappointed with how it ended, but my disappointment was short-lived. It was because the author brought this storyline and the storyline with Michael’s cheating/his past together, and it EXPLODED!!

Michael’s storyline, cheating, and past were well written. Again, it kept me glued to my Kindle. A twist to the cheating storyline and the story about Michael’s history took me by surprise.

The twists in the storylines made the book. I was not expecting either of them. When they both made their appearances (one towards the end and one at the very end), my mouth dropped open. I couldn’t believe that the author went where he did with both twists.

The end of My Wife is Missing was good. The author was able to wrap up all of the storylines in a way that both shocked and pleased me. I was happy to see that at least one of the main characters would have a happy life. But at the same time, I wish the author could have redeemed the other main character somehow. That would have made the book so much better for me.

I would recommend My Wife is Missing to anyone over 21. There is violence, language, and some mild sexual situations.

Dark Circles by Caite Dolan-Leach

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Ballantine Books

Date of publication: May 10th, 2022

Genre: Thriller, Fiction, Mystery, Suspense

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | Google Play | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

An embattled actress turns to podcasting when she becomes entangled in a dark conspiracy at a spiritual retreat in this absorbing mystery about fame, violence, and our morbid fascination with murder–from the acclaimed author of Dead Letters.

Olivia Reed needs a break. She doesn’t want to think about her name plastered on tabloids or be reminded of her recent meltdown on a Manhattan street. Her micromanaging publicist has just the thing in mind: a remote retreat in Upstate New York–the House of Light. It’s not rehab; it’s a spiritual center, a site for seeking realignment and personal growth. There will be yoga and morning meditation, soft bamboo-blend fabrics and crystals to snuggle.

But Liv will soon find that the House of Light is filled with darkness. A prickly local, Ava, informs her that something twisted is lurking behind the Light’s veneer. There have been a series of mysterious suicides committed by women caught in the Light’s web, and no matter who Ava talks to, no one believes her. To get the truth out and put her celebrity to good use, Liv starts a podcast, seeking to connect the dots and expose the Light’s true intentions. Because beneath the glowing skin of the Light’s inhabitants lie rotten souls, and Liv starts to wonder if anything–even her own life–is how it appears.

Caite Dolan-Leach brings her tantalizing voice, gift for atmosphere, and a cast of delightfully devious and absorbing characters to this riveting novel of suspense.


First Line:

The thing my goddamn manager doesn’t understand is that I don’t need to go on a retreat.

Dark Circles by Cait Dolan-Leach

Dark Circles’ plotline was interesting. Olivia is an actress who has found herself in a bit of a pickle. After a very public, very drunken/drug-fueled temper tantrum, her manager/best friend has decided to send Olivia to a retreat to sober up and maybe come to terms with what set her off. The treat is in Western NY, called House of Light, and seems to be where Olivia can sober up. But, on the first day, two things happen. One: Olivia meets a local who insists that the HoL is behind several suicides/murders in the area. Two: A body washes up on the retreats beach, and it is a former retreat member. Becoming intrigued with the unsolved murders/suicides, Olivia starts a podcast. But, as she goes down the rabbit hole, Olivia becomes obsessed. When she finds a connection between her missing mother and HoL, Olivia starts questioning everything she has been told. But the truth is more terrifying than Olivia knows. What is the truth?

I was not too fond of Olivia at first. She was self-absorbed and couldn’t care less about her harm to other people. Her public meltdown in Manhattan showcased that. She was also reckless and didn’t think things through, which was shown repeatedly during her investigation into the HoL. But, I did start to like her after the first few chapters. She went from what I thought would be a 2-dimensional character to a fully fleshed-out character.

I also liked the secondary characters in Dark Circles. They were a perfect blend of creepy and quirky. They also added that extra oomph that rounded out the book.

I liked that the author chose to incorporate the podcast into the story. From the cheesy ads (don’t we all love listening to those, lol) to the comments after each episode. I loved how they tied into the main storyline. This, too, added an extra depth.

The storyline with the HoL and the murder/suicides was wonderfully written. I was kept on the edge of my bed (because I read Dark Circles in bed). I did not expect it to go the way that it did. The twist in that plotline made my mouth drop.

The secondary plotline with Olivia’s mother was sad. I had a feeling about what was going to be revealed. But the author did an excellent job at distracting me from figuring it out until the end of the book.

The end of Dark Circles was your typical mystery ending. Everything was wrapped up and explained.

I would recommend Dark Circles to anyone over 16. There is violence, language, non-graphic sexual situations, and drug/alcohol use.

Starry-Eyed Love (Spark House: Book 2) by Helena Hunting

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin

Date of Publication: May 10th, 2022

Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Women’s Fiction

Series: Spark House

When Sparks Fly—book 1 (review here)

Starry-Eyed Love—book 2

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

Charming, hilarious, and emotional, Starry-Eyed Love is Helena Hunting at her very best!

Having just broken up with her boyfriend, London Spark is not in the mood to be hit on. Especially not when she’s out celebrating her single status with her sisters. So when a very attractive man pays for their drinks and then slips her his number, she passes it right back to him with a ‘thanks, but no thanks’. As the business administrator for their family’s event hotel, the Spark House, London has more important things to worry about, like bringing in new clientele.

As luck would have it, a multi-million-dollar company calls a few months later asking for a meeting to discuss a potential partnership, and London is eager to prove to her sisters, and herself, that she can land this deal. Just when she thinks she has nailed her presentation, the company’s CEO, Jackson Holt, walks in and inserts himself into the meeting. Not only that, but he also happens to be the same guy she turned down at the bar a few months ago.

As they begin to spend more time together, their working relationship blossoms into something more. It isn’t until their professional entanglements are finally over, that London and Jackson are finally ready to take the next step in their relationship. But between Jackson’s secretive past and London’s struggle with her sisters, London must question where she really stands – not just with Jackson, but with the Spark House, too.


First Line:

“One more round?” I tap my empty margarita glass.

Starry-Eyed Love by Helena Hunting

London had just broken up with her boyfriend when she was approached by a charming (and attractive) stranger at a bar. Turning him down, London thinks nothing of it. Fast forward a couple of months, and London is working on bringing in a new client as a sponsor for her family’s hotel. To her surprise, the stranger that she had rejected was the company’s CEO. The attraction between them is instant, but both are determined to keep things professional until after the auction. After the auction, all bets are off. As London and Jackson start dating, they need to navigate Jackson’s secrets and London being overwhelmed with her job. But, when a secret from Jackson’s not so distant past rears its head, it could cost them everything.

I loved London. I understood why she initially didn’t take Jackson’s number at the beginning of the book. She tried to get over her ex and didn’t want a rebound relationship. Sidenote: Very refreshing for an author NOT to have a romantic lead ping-ponging between men. Anyway, back to London. I also loved her reaction to realizing who Jackson was when she gave the presentation. I was laughing during that. But she also did annoy me. She didn’t want to confront Avery about hiring people to help. She walked in on half a conversation and immediately low keyed flipped out on Jackson (not that he didn’t deserve it—he did, but calling herself the “other woman” when he was clear that he wasn’t in a relationship with Selene was a little dramatic). But that made her more relatable.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure if Jackson liked London until about halfway through the book. His reasons for turning her down were valid, but he kept blowing hot and cold. He also kept ignoring good advice from people close to him until it exploded at the auction. But, the way he tried to win London back tugged at my heartstrings.

I want to mention that I wouldn’t say I liked how Avery was portrayed in the book. She went complete Bridezilla at the end. That went against how she was described in book 1. I wasn’t a big fan of that.

I also wasn’t a fan of Selene or how she was written. I figured what her role in Jackson’s past was, but I thought her arc would go a different way. I wasn’t a fan of how she treated London or how mad she was at Jackson. She was the one who wasn’t responding to texts or answering calls. And what she said to him on the terrace was unbelievable. But, I do like how she did try to make things right with London at the end.

I loved how natural Jackson and London’s romance was. It wasn’t a week of them banging like rabbits and deciding that they were in love. Instead, their relationship grew over a couple of months. It was beautiful to watch that. Even the fight (and Jackson’s “betrayal”) was natural, as was the breakup and reconciliation. I loved it!!

The sexual chemistry that Jackson and London had was instant. And like their romance, it was allowed to grow. The author conveyed so much with a kiss or a touch. The sex scenes were just graphic enough, but enough left unsaid so that I could use my imagination.

The go green/auctions/hiring of Spark House storyline was well written. I liked how the author tied Jackson’s experiences with his parents into his passion for green living. There was a lot of technical jargon that I didn’t understand (or care to google), but it didn’t matter to me. That was a tiny blip in an otherwise terrific storyline.

The end of Starry-Eyed Love was excellent. I’m not going to get into it, but I was wowed with what Jackson did. It was the perfect ending for the book.

I would recommend Starry-Eyed Love for anyone over 21. There is mild language, mild violence, and somewhat graphic sex scenes.

Kagen the Damned (Kagen the Damned: Book 1) by Jonathan Maberry

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin

Date of publication: May 10th, 2022

Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Horror

Series: Kagen the Damned

Kagen the Damned—Book 1

Son of the Poison Rose—Book 2 (expected publication date: January 10th, 2023)

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | World Cat

Goodreads Synopsis:

Sworn by Oath
Kagen Vale is the trusted and feared captain of the palace guard, charged with protection the royal children of the Silver Empire. But one night, Kagen is drugged and the entire imperial family is killed, leaving the empire in ruins.

Abandoned by the Gods
Haunted and broken, Kagen is abandoned by his gods and damned forever. He becomes a wanderer, trying to take down as many of this enemies as possible while plotting to assassinate the usurper–the deadly Witch-king of Hakkia. While all around him magic–long banished from the world—returns in strange and terrifying ways.

Fueled by Rage
To find the royal children and exact his vengeance, Kagen must venture into strange lands, battle bizarre and terrifying creatures, and gather allies for a suicide mission into the heart of the Witch-king’s empire.

Kings and gods will fear him.

Kagen the Damned


First Line:

Kagen Vale woke to the sound of his own damnation.

Kagen the Damned by Jonathan Maberry

Kagen the Damned is a horror/fantasy that was slow to start but gained momentum after the book’s first quarter. I couldn’t put this book down!!

Kagen the Damned had a unique storyline. Kagen is a place guard and the protector of the royal children. He had gone to town on his day off to enjoy some ale and a wench. But when he wakes up, poisoned, and hears the sound of battle outside, he realizes something is seriously wrong. And it is. The Hakkia, led by their Witch-King, have attacked the Silver City and killed the empress and her children. Kagen arrives in time to see the children’s bodies, brutalized beyond recognition. He also attempts to defend his mother, a warrior known as The Poison Rose but is witness to her death. Kagen then has a vision where his gods turn their backs on him and damn him. That pushed Kagen to start drinking heavily and whoring his way around the countryside while avoiding the deadly Ravens (who are the Witch-King’s assassins). Can Kagen pull himself out of his despair and exact revenge on the Witch-King? Can he redeem himself?

There is another storyline running in tandem with Kagen’s. Fifteen-year-old Ryssa, an alocyte with The Garden, and twenty-year-old Miri, a nun with The Garden, run through the Silver City, looking for an escape route. Finding it in underground tunnels, they soon meet up with pirates taking them to a haven. But, Ryssa starts noticing that not all is what it seems with Miri and the crew. And when she finds out where they are heading, she is doubly sure that something will happen to her. What is going on? Can Ryssa trust her instincts, or are they wrong?

I am going to warn you about trigger warnings. They are rape, attempted rape, talk of rape, domestic violence, child abuse, animal abuse, gore, and murder. If any of these trigger you, I strongly suggest not reading this book.

I felt awful for Kagen and didn’t blame him for his actions during the book’s first 30-40%. How would you have acted if an invading force gruesomely murdered everyone you loved (family, friends, coworkers)? And then you find out that the gods you have dedicated your life to have turned their backs on you? My answer: The same way. He had a combination of survivor’s guilt, PTSD, and shame that he couldn’t save the children. What broke my heart the most about that part of the storyline was his anguish about not being able to save the children. Now, saying that, it did seem like the storyline stalled a tiny bit while Kagen was in his depression. When Tuke came on the scene and forced Kagen to come out of his depression, the book picked back up. From that point on, Kagen had a purpose: kill the Witch-King.

Ryssa was almost too innocent to be a part of this book. I got why the author wrote her the way he did but still. It wasn’t until she and Miri got to the island that I began to understand that she had a part to play in Kagen’s storyline and that her innocence was a considerable part of it.

The Witch-King was one of the more gruesome villains that I have read. He gave me shivers every time he made an appearance in the book. His end game was to become Emporer, and I was curious to see if that would happen.

The fantasy angel was wonderfully written. Kagen the Damned is a dark fantasy, and oh boy, did it live up to that genre. This was also one of the few books I have read that mentioned the Elder Ones (Cthulhu and Hastur). It made the book more enjoyable for me to read.

The author wonderfully wrote the horror angle also. This book was like a car accident, I wanted to look away, but I felt compelled to keep looking. I needed to read the next chapter to see what was going to happen and if Kagen would achieve his goal.

The end of Kagen the Damned was interesting. I did figure out who the Witch-King was, and I figured out who his children were early on in the book (well, once they were mentioned). The author dropped enough hints throughout the book that when the reveal happened, I wasn’t surprised. I also wasn’t surprised by what happened with Ryssa and Miri. The author did end the book on a cliffhanger, which I didn’t like, but it did its job. I am going to need to read book 2.

I would recommend Kagen the Damned to anyone over 21. There is graphic violence, graphic violence, and semi-graphic sex scenes. There are also the triggers that I mentioned above.

The Summer Place by Jennifer Weiner

Publisher: Atria Books

Date of publication: May 10th, 2022

Genre: Women’s Fiction, Romance, Contemporary, LGBTQ+

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of That Summer comes another heartfelt and unputdownable novel of family, secrets, and the ties that bind.

When her twenty-two-year-old stepdaughter announces her engagement to her pandemic boyfriend, Sarah Danhauser is shocked. But the wheels are in motion. Headstrong Ruby has already set a date (just three months away!) and spoken to her beloved safta, Sarah’s mother Veronica, about having the wedding at the family’s beach house on Cape Cod. Sarah might be worried, but Veronica is thrilled to be bringing the family together one last time before putting the big house on the market.

But the road to a wedding day usually comes with a few bumps. Ruby has always known exactly what she wants, but as the wedding date approaches, she finds herself grappling with the wounds left by the mother who walked out when she was a baby. Veronica ends up facing unexpected news, thanks to her meddling sister, and must revisit the choices she made long ago, when she was a bestselling novelist with a different life. Sarah’s twin brother, Sam, is recovering from a terrible loss, and confronting big questions about who he is—questions he hopes to resolve during his stay on the Cape. Sarah’s husband, Eli, who’s been inexplicably distant during the pandemic, confronts the consequences of a long ago lapse from his typical good-guy behavior. And Sarah, frustrated by her husband, concerned about her stepdaughter, and worn out by challenges of life during quarantine, faces the alluring reappearance of someone from her past and a life that could have been.

When the wedding day arrives, lovers are revealed as their true selves, misunderstandings take on a life of their own, and secrets come to light. There are confrontations and revelations that will touch each member of the extended family, ensuring that nothing will ever be the same.

From “the undisputed boss of the beach read” (The New York Times), The Summer Place is a testament to family in all its messy glory; a story about what we sacrifice and how we forgive. Enthralling, witty, big-hearted, and sharply observed, this is Jennifer Weiner’s love letter to the Outer Cape and the power of home, the way our lives are enriched by the people we call family, and the endless ways love can surprise us.


First Line:

For forty years, the house had stood, silvery cedar and gleaming glass, on the edge of the dune, overlooking the waters of Cape Cod Bay.

The Summer Place by Jennifer Weiner

Ruby has announced her upcoming marriage to her pandemic boyfriend. This throws her family into a tailspin. When the dust settles, lives will never be the same. Can everyone and their relationships survive what is going to happen?

I wasn’t a big fan of how the author wrote this book and almost DNF’d it a couple of times. The author took us down memory lane with all of the characters. If there were two POVs and it jumped from past to present, I would have been fine. But every single character. Nope. By the time the author was able to bring everyone to a single plotline (the wedding), I was struggling.

I wasn’t a fan of the characters either. I know that the author was trying to make them more realistic but having them all cheat (at one point or the other) or make them do stupid things (like sleeping with a guy to get money for an abortion that didn’t happen) was just too much. The only one I liked was Sam, and his arc was excellent.

I also wasn’t a fan of a total recap of the pandemic during the book’s first half. I lived it; I know what happened. I didn’t need it shoved down my throat. But I get why the author did it. She wanted to show how pandemic relationships got serious, and they soured just as fast.

I loved Ronnie. She was feisty, and she intensely disliked the Pond People. Every time I saw those words, I giggled. She also gave up so much for her kids. So much that they didn’t understand or care. So, when she got that news in the middle of the book, my heart sank, and I began a countdown before she told Sarah and Sam.

I also loved Sam. His journey to self-discovery was one of the better storylines. He didn’t cheat, and he loved his wife. He was raising his stepson alone after her death. There was a point in his storyline where I did wonder about him. I wondered if he was asexual until he discovered hobbit fan fiction and then realized something about himself. His journey from then on was one of the best things about this book.

I was not too fond of Sarah. Instead of talking to Eli and asking him what’s up, she chose to go the other path. She ASSUMED that he was cheating on her and used that as the reason to get her apartment. When she hooked back up with Owen, I rolled my eyes. I could see where this was going. But, I wasn’t expecting it to end the way it did. That surprised me.

I was on the fence with Eli. Like Sarah, I didn’t understand why he didn’t call Rosa and ask her what he was assuming of her. I laughed when he had Ari try to lift the toothbrushes and got the wrong one. I could think, “Well, at least he knows for sure about that one.” But, he was so involved with what was going on with him that he didn’t see what was going on with Ruby or Sarah until it was almost too late.

I didn’t blame Rosa for doing what she did when she found out she was pregnant. She had no clue that it would backfire the way it did. I got why she was embarrassed to face Eli. But to read her side of that weekend was a little disappointing. I expected more from her since Eli remembered her as this vibrant, sensual woman.

I liked Gabe, but I wish he had been more open with Ruby about getting married. I get that he was a go-with-the-flow guy, but this was almost too much. He should have told Ruby that he didn’t want to get married and ended it. Then that would have made what happened next much more palatable to me.

Ruby was alright. She was used to getting what she wanted when she wanted it. So, when she wanted to marry Gabe, she went for it. I did feel bad for her when she finally realized she couldn’t marry Gabe. I would have done the same thing if I were in her shoes.

The end of the book was alright. I liked how everyone came together, and I got misty-eyed when the author recapped what had happened in the year since that night.

I would recommend The Summer Place to anyone over 21. There is language, mild violence, and mild sexual situations.

That Cowboy of Mine by Donna Grant

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Paperbacks

Date of publication: April 26th, 2022

Genre: Romance, Suspense, Contemporary, Western, Mystery

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

Is he an enemy?

Dillon Young is proud that she inherited her aunt’s ranch. The problem: someone is trying to run her off and is willing to do whatever it takes. Strange, dangerous things keep happening. Dillion suspects her no-good neighbor and fellow wealthy rancher Hank Stephens. Never a man to get his hands dirty, he sends others to get the job done. So, when the irresistible Cal Bennett is found passed out drunk on her property, Dillion is on high alert. Until someone takes a shot at her and Cal springs to her rescue. When the hard-bodied, no-nonsense-talking cowboy points out that she may need some help, Dillion is inclined to reluctantly agree.

Or a lover?

Waking up on a stranger’s property with a shotgun in his face is not Cal Bennett’s idea of a good time. Never mind that the woman on the other end of the barrel is one of the most fiercely beautiful women he has ever seen. Things get more interesting when he finds himself shielding her from flying bullets. It’s clear that this smart, savvy woman could use a hand and he is all too happy to lend any part of his body she requires. His proposal: pose as lovers until they find out who is after her ranch. As the danger rises and secrets are revealed, the passion explodes between them. There is no turning back.


The distinct sound of metal snapping loudly before cracking back into place jerked Cal awake.

That Cowboy of Mine by Donna Grant

That Cowboy of Mine is the love story between Cal and Dillon. It is also a mystery/thriller/suspense that had me glued to the book. It also helped that I enjoy reading books from Donna Grant.

The plotline was interesting. Cal is woken up by the sound of Dillon cocking her rifle to shoot him. A bull rider, who didn’t get on the circuit, he had decided to drown his sorrows at a local bar. He has no clue what he did or how he ended up on Dillon’s land. But, when he saves her from bullets, he is instantly embroiled in a plot to drive Dillon from her land. Determined to protect her, Cal hatches a plan to pose as her new lover and stay with her at the ranch until everything is sorted out. But, that proves to be hard when secrets are unearthed, and the attempts on Dillon’s life grow. Can Cal and Dillon solve the mystery of why these things are happening? Can they figure out who is behind it? And most importantly, can their love survive what will be revealed?

Dillon annoyed me for about 90% of the book. I liked her, but man, she was quick to jump to conclusions about Cal. There were points in the book where I wanted to shake her because she was that irritating. But, as I said, I liked her. She cared about her ranch, and she wasn’t willing to sell it.

I liked Cal. He was on the up and up with Dillon, even if she didn’t trust him. Of course, what happened the night he was drunk did make me slightly suspicious of him. Also, his relationship with the person who was determined to get Dillon’s property made me raise my eyebrows a little. But, he was determined to help Dillon, even after she made him leave her property. I wasn’t expecting how far he was willing to go, though.

The villains in That Cowboy of Mine were despicable and evil. They wanted power and wealth and would do anything to get it. The main bad guy was more willing to get his hands dirty (killing people), while the second bad guy did have reservations, at first, about what bad guy#1 was doing. But he lost those towards the end of the book and was just as evil as bad guy#1. But there was a 3rd bad guy that came out of nowhere. I was beyond shocked when he just popped up towards the end of the book.

The mystery genre was well written. I did feel that the author stretched out the plotline (why did the bad guys want Dillon’s land). But that feeling went away when the author added two twists to the story. One was why the bad guys wanted the land, and the other was the surprise 3rd bad guy who just appeared out of thin air. That added some extra kick towards the end of the book.

The suspense angle of the book was terrific. I found myself growing anxious and wondering what would happen to Dillon next. The author was able to draw out the events and keep me on edge for the entire book. I loved it!!!

Westerns are my guilty pleasure, and this one didn’t disappoint me. I could have used a few more scenes on the ranch, but I was happy with what the author portrayed.

Since this is a contemporary romance, I expected the sex scenes to be hot and graphic. I wasn’t disappointed. Cal and Dillon had an electric connection that came off the pages. My only complaint was this book took place within a week, so you know that means Instalove. Not a fan of Instalove. But besides that, I enjoyed that angle of the book.

The end of That Cowboy of Mine was fantastic. I loved how the author resolved all the plotlines. Of course, there was some suspense involving Cal, but that also worked itself out. The epilogue was cute, but I did roll my eyes at what Cal’s mother kept asking.

I would recommend That Cowboy of Mine to anyone over 21. There is graphic sex, moderate language, and moderate violence.

Rules for Engaging the Earl (The Widow Rules: Book 2) by Janna MacGregor

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Paperbacks

Date of publication: April 26th, 2022

Genre: Historical Romance, Romance, Historical Fiction, Regency, Regency Romance

Series: The Widow Rules

Where There’s a Will—Book 0.5

A Duke in Time—Book 1 (review here)

Rules for Engaging the Earl—Book 2

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

Get ready for lost wills, broody dukes, and scorching hot kissing all over London.

Constance Lysander needs a husband. Or, so society says. She’s about to give birth to her late husband’s child―a man who left her with zero money, and two other wives she didn’t know about. Thankfully, she has her Aunt by her side, and the two other wives have become close friends. But still―with a baby on the way, her shipping business to run, and an enemy skulking about, she has no time to find the perfect match.

Enter Jonathan, Earl of Sykeston. Returned war hero and Constance’s childhood best friend, his reentry into society has been harsh. Maligned for an injury he received in the line of duty, Jonathan prefers to stay out of sight. It’s the only way to keep his heart from completely crumbling. But when a missive from Constance requests his presence―to their marriage ceremony―Jonathan is on board. His feelings for Constance run deep, and he’ll do anything to make her happy, though it means risking his already bruised heart.

With Constance, Jonathan, and the new baby all together, it’s clear the wounds―both on the surface and in their relationship―run deep. But when the nights come, their wounds begin to heal, and both come to realize that their marriage of convenience is so much more than just a bargain.


First Line:

Only one person in the entire world had the power to make Jonathan Eaton, the Earl of Sykeston, push everything aside and ride like the devil over the fields at breakneck speeds to reach her.

Rules for Engaging the Earl by Janna MacGregor

I have a master list of books where I know there will be a book two, and I want to read book 2 (if that makes sense). The Widow Rules trilogy is on that list, and I had been waiting impatiently for Rules for Engaging the Earl to be published. I didn’t think that I would get the ARC, so I planned to buy it once it was published. When I got the email from SMP asking to review it, I was thrilled, and obviously, I said yes. I am glad that I did because this book was excellent!!

Rules for Engaging the Earl is book 2 in The Widow Rules trilogy. Unlike other books in series/trilogies, readers can read this as a standalone. The author does a great job of going over the backstory and quickly summarizing the plotline of book 1. So go read without being afraid that you will be lost.

Rules for Engaging the Earl’s plotline starts off ten years before the events of book 1. The author introduces Constance and Jonathan and lays the foundation for the rest of the book. It then goes forward ten years, and we see a different Jonathan and Constance. A decorated war hero, Jonathan had been wounded and crippled in battle. He fears an upcoming court-martial over what his commander calls “dishonorable behavior” on the battlefield. That, along with his injury, has made him a recluse. But when Constance sends word that she needs him, he drops everything and goes to her.

Constance has been embroiled in a scandal where the man she married ended up being married to two other women. Constance is pregnant and due any day to add salt to the wound. So, she tells Jonathan about her predicament and asks if he could help by marrying her. Right before their wedding, two things happen: she finds out that she is the legal wife and gives birth to her daughter, Aurelia. But she still goes through with the wedding to Jonathan.

The book then jumps to a year later; Constance lives in London with her daughter. Jonathan has left her but writes constantly. So, she immediately accepts when he asks if she would move herself and the baby to his country house. But she wasn’t prepared for what she walked into.

Jonathan is a shell of himself. He has secrets that he is determined to keep from Constance. But, having Constance and Aurelia at the manor is soothing and helps Jonathan to start to overcome his depression. He starts to question what his commanding officer has told him. But there is a twist. See, Constance has a very successful ship-making business inherited from her parents. An influential peer is slandering her business, and she is determined to battle this individual herself. Things start to get interesting when both Constance and Jonathan realize a connection between Jonathan’s commanding officer and the person trying to bankrupt Constance’s business. What is that connection? Also, will Constance and Jonathan realize their feelings for each other?

This is the 3rd review that I have had to put up, but there are a couple of trigger warnings in Rules for Engaging the Earl. Usually, I do this many over a couple of months. Anyway, the triggers that I noticed in this book are depression and PTSD. If these trigger you, I highly suggest not reading this book.

I loved Jonathan, but at the same time, I wanted to read through the book and shake some sense into him. He was in a deep depression for 85% of the book, and I got why he did some of his things. But still, it frustrated me. But once he came out of his depression and started looking into things, he was on FIRE.

I love Constance too. Throughout this book, she had to deal with so much, and she didn’t once have a “woe is me” moment. Instead, she rose like a BOSS and dealt with everything in her way. And the way she got her points across was fantastic. She had a backbone of steel, even with Jonathan.

Constance and Jonathan’s romance was super sweet to read. I liked that they were sweethearts when they were teenagers. That prologue was one of the sweetest I have read in a while. Their romance grew while they were separated after their marriage (but there was a twist). Seeing how much Jonathan cherished Constance was probably the best thing about the book. Of course, he had to go and almost screw it up, but I firmly believe a combination of depression and fear made him do what he did.

I do have to mention Jonathan and Aurelia’s relationship. Aurelia is Constance’s daughter with her first husband, and why Jonathan married Constance. I liked that the author had their relationship grow throughout the book. Jonathan’s interactions with Aurelia went from hands-off to hands-on. Plus, it helped that Aurelia called JonathanDa” from the first minute she met him. The scene where he called her “his daughter” made me so happy and brought tears to my eyes!!

There weren’t many sex scenes in Rules for Engaging the Earl. But the ones that the author wrote were amazing. I liked that Constance was very aware of what she wanted, sexually, and wasn’t afraid to let Jonathan know. I could think, “Well, at least her marriage did one good thing for her (other than Aurelia).” The author also kept the sexual scenes realistic. She had Aurelia interrupt by crying during the first one. All I could do was laugh and think, “Yup, been there.

The storyline about Jonathan, his injury, commanding officer, court-martial, and depression was well written. I liked how the author had everything tied together. I also liked how she wrote about Jonathan’s depression and PTSD. I had a feeling the CO was up to no good. Mainly because of how he treated Jonathan and his injury. My Spidey sense kept tingling during those interactions.

The storyline about Constance, her dead husband, the will, her business, and the peer trying to ruin her business was well written also. As I mentioned above, she handled everything like a boss. I did like her detective work on the ship’s damage. I also liked how she was trying to figure out why this person was doing what he was doing while figuring out her dead husband’s will.

Once I realized who the common denominator was in both of these storylines, I sat back and waited for the characters to realize it. When they did (towards the end of the book), oh boy, did the fireworks explode!!! All I will say is that the person got what they deserved.

The end of Rules for Engaging the Earl was your typical HEA. The author sets up the romance between the last wife and Jonathan’s other best friend. I can’t wait to read that book!!

I would recommend Rules for Engaging the Earl to anyone over 21. There is graphic sex, language, and mild violence. There are also the triggers I mentioned above.

Song of the Samodiva (Annika Brisby: Book 5) by Emigh Cannaday

Publisher: Black Feather Publishing

Date of publication: March 29th, 2022

Series: Annika Brisby

The Flame and the Arrow—Book 1 (review here)

The Silver Thread—Book 2 (review here)

The Scarlet Tanager—Book 3 (review here)

The Darkest of Dreams—Book 4 (review here)

Song of the Samodiva—Book 5

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Fae

Purchase Links: Amazon

Goodreads synopsis:

What do you call an assassin who’s had a change of heart?
A coward?
A hero?
Or Talvi Marinossian?

Just when Annika thought she and Talvi were headed off into the sunset of marital bliss, duty calls. Pushed to the limits of his moral code, Talvi must choose between the empire he serves and the woman he loves.

But first, a detour…straight into the half-demon heart of enemy territory, where Talvi enters into a perilous arrangement with the ruler of the largest kingdom in the Ellunian Empire—

His Royal Highness Crown Prince Fallon Blackwood

Sacred Son of Sinaryos

Admiral of the Royal Sinaryan Navy

Keeper of the Chimeras

And through his ancient bloodline, a direct descendant of the first demonborn dark elves.

In other words, he’s not someone you want to let down.

In no uncertain terms, Prince Fallon warns Talvi that if he can’t keep his end of the bargain, he won’t be the one who suffers the most. Taking her husband’s advice to “just be her charming self,” Annika must do everything she can to survive her stay at Blackwood Castle. Faced with deadly chimeras, a sadistic prince on the prowl, and a court whose opinion of her changes like the tides, it might take more than the song of a samodiva to win them over.

For Talvi and Annika, the stakes have never been higher.

* This final installment of the Annika Brisby series contains darker content than previous books.


First Line:

Talvi Marinossian felt a small swell of nausea rising and falling in harmony with the waves that lapped at the wooden dock below his feet

Song of the Samodiva by Emigh Cannaday

I was so excited when the author announced that there would be a book 5 in the Annika Brisby series. I was even more excited when I saw that Talvi and Annika would finally be together again. Then, my heart sunk because the author announced that she was ending this series. So, when the author sent out advanced reader copies to her team, there was zero hesitation on my end to read this book. I am happy that I did because this was probably the BEST book in this series.

Song of the Samodiva is the fifth book in the Annika Brisby series. You cannot read this book as a standalone. You need to start at book one to understand any relationships (except for Fallon and Novi’s) and backstories. You will be confused if you start with this book. The relationships and backstories are so intertwined that starting the series at book five will turn you off. So consider yourself warned!!

I am going to put a trigger warning up. If you have been following my blog for any time, you know that I only put trigger warnings up if I feel it needs it. Song of the Samodiva needs it. The triggers are attempted rape, rape with fingers (I wasn’t sure how to word that), kidnapping, alcohol use, drug use, and PTSD. If any of these triggers you, I strongly suggest not reading Song of the Samodiva.

Song of the Samodiva starts shortly after the events of The Darkest of Dreams. Talvi and Annika are on their way to the kingdom of Sinaryos to talk to Crown Prince Fallon. They have news that might be of interest to him. The only thing is that Fallon and Talvi are from rival kingdoms, and they DO NOT trust or like each other. The news that Talvi is so eager to tell Fallon: Dillion, the true Crown Prince, is alive and being held in the same prison that Talvi had just been released from. Fallon sends Talvi to break Dillion out of jail with a group of his subjects. To ensure that he comes back, Fallon holds Annika hostage. While Talvi is off on his mission, Annika tries her best to stay out of trouble. But trouble seems to find Annika, and it finds her in a big way. Or will she end up paying for both her and Talvi’s mistakes? And more importantly, can Talvi bring Dillion home?

It took me a minute to realize that the author brought together the characters from the Novi Navarro series and the Annika Brisby series. The way she brought them together was fantastic, and I was so happy to see Novi and Fallon together and happy. I also realized that Annika needed Novi’s perspective (along with a couple of other characters) to unravel the prophecy given at Talvi’s birth. I was super excited when it was finally revealed, and I can’t wait to see what future Novi Navarro books will do with it.

I loved how the author wrote Annika’s character for this book. She was funny, sweet, and strong when she needed to be. She walked a wire-thin line in Fallon’s court, and she did it with grace. It helped that she could sing and play the guitar like no one’s business. I did worry for her after the events at the theater. Let’s say that I thought that her and Talvi’s love story would never get the second chance that it needed.

Talvi wasn’t around for a good part of the book. After he told Fallon about Dillion, he was shipped out to rescue him with many Sinaryans’ who hated him. There was a point in the book where I wondered if he was coming back.

The plotline with Annika, Novi, and Fallon was wonderfully written. I was taken aback by how attracted Fallon was to Annika UNTIL I realized that she was part samodiva. That race of fae is inherently attractive to any/all fae. So, Fallon’s reaction to Annika (as well as the kiss/blood sharing) was very typical. What wasn’t typical was what Annika did after (not that I blamed her) or her punishment.

The plotline with Talvi and the Sinaryan Navy was just as well written when the focus was on him. I can’t say that I was surprised by what happened once the boat got to prison. I was disappointed but not surprised. Then there was nothing until the end of the book. Nothing was mentioned about any of those people with Talvi getting in trouble. I will go out on a limb and say “Maybe,” but I’m not sure.

There was a subplotline with Heron that didn’t make sense to me. I understood why the author chose to write him in, but I wonder how Heron and the other assassin will tie into the Novi Navarro series if that’s where the author is going.

The sex scenes were just as graphic as in the other books. I wasn’t expecting any less. The sexual tension that was inherent with Annika was woven into every scene.

The end of Song of the Samodiva was interesting. The author left so much open with Fallon and Novi. But she also wrapped up Annika and Talvi’s storyline (and the series) in a way that I loved!!!

I would recommend Song of the Samodiva to anyone over 21. There are the triggers I mentioned above. There is also graphic sex, language, and violence.

The Shadow House by Anna Downes

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books

Date of publication: April 5th, 2022

Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Horror, Fiction, Suspense, Gothic

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | B&N | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

Extraordinarily tense and deliciously mysterious, Anna Downes’s The Shadow House follows one woman’s desperate journey to protect her children at any cost, in a remote place where not everything is as it seems.

A HOUSE WITH DEADLY SECRETS.

A MOTHER WHO’LL RISK EVERYTHING TO BRING THEM TO LIGHT.

Alex, a single mother of two, is determined to make a fresh start for her and her children. In an effort to escape her troubled past, she seeks refuge in a rural community. Pine Ridge is idyllic; the surrounding forests are beautiful and the locals welcoming. Mostly.

But Alex finds that she may have disturbed barely hidden secrets in her new home. As a chain of bizarre events is set off, events eerily familiar to those who have lived there for years, Alex realizes that she and her family might be in greater danger than ever before. And that the only way to protect them all is to confront the shadows lurking in Pine Ridge.


First Line:

The bones came first. A gift, nothing wanted. Next, a doll, a likeness, a promise. And the blood marks the choice. It finds a face, and then you know.

The Shadow House by Anna Downes

I wanted to like The Shadow House. I am a big fan of thrillers/mystery/suspense, and from what I read, this book was something that I would like. Then I read it, and I was let down.

The Shadow House did have an exciting storyline. Alex is a single mother of two, and she is on the run from the abusive father of her youngest child. Finding Pine Ridge was perfect, and Alex felt that she could make a fresh start for herself and her children. But things start to go sour when she receives weird gifts and overhears a bizarre rumor about a witch living in the surrounding woods. The more she digs into the secrets around Pine Ridge, the more unwelcoming the townspeople become. Can Alex figure out not only who is sending the gifts but why? And will her perfect refuge stay that way, or will it become tainted? And are the rumors about the witch true?

I hate to say this, but I was not too fond of Alex for about 90% of the book. She had a massive chip on her shoulder. She had gotten herself into a bad situation with her ex. Nobody deserves to be treated that way. But my pity was overwhelmed by my dislike of her.

I also didn’t care for Renee when the author switched to her POV. She knew that her husband was abusive toward Gabriel, but she didn’t do anything. Her son was crying out for help/attention/both, and she turned a blind eye. I get that she was dealing with her stuff (overbearing, uber-religious parents and her overbearing husband). It’s a problem when your kid locks himself in his bedroom for hours upon hours and refuses to come out. So, yeah, I didn’t pity her (Gabriel, on the other hand, oodles of concern for him).

I did think that The author very well wrote the mystery angle. I liked seeing Alex’s detective work and where it led her. A couple of twists took me by surprise, and one of those twists was a big one.

Several minor storylines were used as a filler. The one with Ollie and his school was heartbreaking, and considering how the author tied it into another secondary character, it broke my heart even more. Of course, that too was a surprise, and I feel that it got overshadowed by everything else.

The thriller angle was a little “meh.” I wasn’t sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting for the next thrill to show up with bated breath. It was barely there. If there, I should have been glued to my Kindle. Instead, I was putting my Kindle down and getting bored.

I was a little surprised by the end of the book. I was left feeling “meh” about it. I wasn’t expecting Renee/Alex’s storyline to be resolved the way it was. The author made it so that almost everyone had a happy ending. It just didn’t sit right with me.

I would recommend The Shadow House to anyone over 21. There is nongraphic sex, mild violence, and mild language.