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 Date from Hell (Not Your Average Hot Guy: Book 2) by Gwenda Bond

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

Date of publication: April 5th, 2022

Series: Not Your Average Hot Guy

Not Your Average Hot Guy—Book 1 (review here)

The Date from Hell—Book 2

Genre: Romance, Paranormal, New Adult, Contemporary

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

“The apocalyptic beach read that everyone needs.” – Alix E. Harrow, Hugo Award-winning author on Not Your Average Hot Guy

In The Date from Hell, the sequel to Not Your Average Hot Guy, New York Times bestselling author Gwenda Bond brings the journey of Callie, Luke, and their friends to a wonderful close. This is another laugh-out-loud, action-packed romantic adventure you won’t want to miss.

After saving the world and stopping the apocalypse, Callie and Luke are looking forward to a quiet, romantic weekend together. When you’re human and dating the Prince of Hell, quiet moments are hard to come by. But their romantic weekend in Hell takes a turn when Lucifer tasks Callie and Luke with chasing a wayward soul around the world. If they can prove it’s possible to redeem a soul, Lucifer will allow the two of them to make some changes in Hell.

But this wayward soul, Sean, doesn’t have any interest in being redeemed. Instead, now that he’s back on Earth, he’s decided to take a leaf out of Callie and Luke’s book and wants to find the Holy Grail. Now Callie, Luke, and their friends—and enemies—must race Sean around the globe on a Grail quest and bring peace between Heaven and Hell before they can finally (maybe) get around to that date.

First Line:

I stand on my tiptoes to slide a book with a thick black spine adorned with golden skulls – Being the Rules of the Kingdom of Hell, Vol 99 – back into its place on the shelf.

The Date from hell by gwenda bond

When I finished Not Your Average Hot Guy, I immediately wanted to read the next book in the series. That is how much I loved Callie and Luke’s relationship. I kept checking Gwenda Bond’s Goodreads and when I saw that The Date From Hell had its own Goodreads page, I prayed to the book gods that I got an ARC of this book. My prayer was answered when SMP contacted me about reading/reviewing The Date From Hell. I was so excited about reading this book. And, I am happy to report that this book more than lived up to my expectations.

The Date From Hell takes place a couple of months after the events of Not Your Average Hot Guy. Callie, Luke, and her family are almost at the end of rebuilding the escape room business destroyed by the events in book 1. Callie has also wanted to change one of Hell’s rules regarding people who commit morally gray crimes and end up in Hell. Satan surprisingly agrees when she brings that up but gives her a 3-day quest to redeem a soul of his choice. If she succeeds, he will allow the changes. But if she doesn’t, she will have to forfeit something. But, dealing with Satan is always tricky, and he wasn’t exactly honest about who the soul was and if it even wanted to be redeemed. As secrets come to light, soon Luke and Callie are fighting for more than a single soul. What is that secret that they discovered? And is it worth risking everything (including their lives) to go through with the quest?

The Date from Hell is book 2 in the Not Your Average Hot Guy series. While you could read this as a standalone book, I highly suggest reading book one first. That way, you could understand the backstories referenced in this one. If you don’t want to read the book, then I suggest reading the reviews for a quick overlook.

I loved Callie in this book. She continued to be this badass who wasn’t afraid to go toe to toe with Satan. She had no filter, which was generally hilarious but sometimes got her into trouble. The only thing I did fault her for was that she was almost too stubborn, and she seemed to like poking Soraya the Rude all the time. I loved seeing how passionate she was about redeeming those souls she felt got the short end of the stick by being stuck in Hell.

I loved that the author chose to go the route she did with Luke. While I loved Luke, I felt that he was afraid to get seriously involved with Callie from book one. The part of the book where Luke was human was huge because his feelings were more real to me. He did come across as overprotective at times, but I wasn’t surprised. His character had some tremendous growth to it throughout the book.

I couldn’t understand why the author had so much focus on Sean until the middle of the book. Then a giant lightbulb went on over my head. I got a little grumpy with Satan at that point too. That was one of the many times after the middle of the book that I got cranky with him.

The storyline with the quest to redeem Sean’s soul that morphed into a quest to find the Holy Grail was interesting. I enjoyed seeing The Guardian’s city (even if I did think that people were bloodthirsty). I also loved how the author introduced Guinevere and Arthur and how they were involved in that quest. It was an exciting way to do that part of the quest, and I loved it.

The storyline with Callie wanting to change some of the laws in Hell had a fascinating twist. I was astonished when it went the way it did and felt I should have seen it coming. But it was perfect and very fitting for Callie!!

Callie and Luke’s romance was one of the sweetest that I have read. I loved that the author took it slow with them, that there was no Instalove. Instead, their relationship was allowed to progress naturally. That alone made this book enjoyable to read for me.

There is sex in The Date from Hell, but it isn’t graphic. And, surprisingly (well, to me at least), it is Callie and Luke’s first time after dating for months.

The end of The Date from Hell was interesting. I liked the twist that the author put in there with Callie. It did make sense, but at the time, I was internally screaming, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?????

I am looking forward to reading book three and seeing where all the different relationships are and if that twist is working.

I would recommend The Date from Hell to anyone over 16. There is mild language, violence, and sexual situations/scenes.

Reputation by Lex Croucher

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

Publication Date: April 5th, 2022

Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, LGBT

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

The hilarious debut novel from Lex Croucher. A classic romcom with a Regency-era twist, for fans of Mean Girls and/or Jane Austen.

Abandoned by her parents, middle-class Georgiana Ellers has moved to a new town to live with her dreary aunt and uncle. At a particularly dull party, she meets the enigmatic Frances Campbell, a wealthy member of the in-crowd who lives a life Georgiana couldn’t have imagined in her wildest dreams.

Lonely and vulnerable, Georgiana falls in with Frances and her unfathomably rich, deeply improper friends. Georgiana is introduced to a new world: drunken debauchery, mysterious young men with strangely arresting hands, and the upper echelons of Regency society.

But the price of entry to high society might just be higher than Georgiana is willing to pay …

First Line:

It all began at a party, as almost everything of interest does.

reputation by lex croucher

I was hooked on reading Reputation by the blurb. When I read the first paragraph and saw that it was a romantic comedy set in Regency England but compared to Mean Girls, I knew I needed to read it. First of all, I love romances, with historical romances being one of my all-time favorite genres. It was touted as a comedy and set in Regency England, and I was almost sold. The final selling point was that it was compared to Mean Girls. That is one of my favorite movies (even though I haven’t watched it in a while). So, I accepted the invitation to review from STP. I am glad I did because I loved this book!!

What I liked the most about Reputation was that it made me laugh. I had read this book on my drive home from MA the week of Easter. I distinctly remember that we were stuck in traffic leading up to the George Washington Bridge in New York. I laughed hysterically at some of the antics/situations that George found herself in. My poor husband had to listen to me explain was I was laughing without getting too into it (I kept it G-rated for the kids sitting in the backseat). Any book that makes me laugh like that and makes me share it with my husband is fantastic.

I LOVED George. She was such a breath of fresh air. She was a nerdy (being raised by scholars), socially awkward (from being kept isolated because of her scholarly parents), and amazingly open-minded for the book’s era. Oh, and let’s not forget clumsy. She was constantly tripping over something or spilling something. I think that she got in over her head when she started hanging out with Frances, and I disagreed with the steps she took to hang out with them. But then again, she was a teenager (18), and teenagers aren’t the most rational people (I have 2, so I know).

The romance angle of Reputation was wonderfully written. I liked that it seemed one-sided for most of the book. I also liked that George made a fool out of herself almost every time she saw Hawksley. Or that she was almost always drunk or high too. It wasn’t until the middle of the book, after she sent him the 1816 equivalent of a drunken text (a drunken note), that I saw that he liked and cared about her.

I loved that the author had LGBTQ characters and kept them in line with what the atmosphere would have been like in 1816. There was an openly gay man, a lesbian, and I believe two bisexual people portrayed in the book. I will give you some background on being gay in 1816. People had to hide, have secret societies, and if they got caught, they could have been sent to jail or worse. The author did bring that up when George mentioned to Jonathan how romantic sneaking around was, and his response was very spot on.

Race was also another thing touched upon in Reputation. Frances and Hawksely were biracial. Frances had a white father and a black mother, and Hawksley had an Indian mother and a white father. The author did have a couple of scenes where Frances’s mother was treated poorly because she was black. But, more importantly, the author didn’t portray the aristocrats of England as just purely white. Because they weren’t. The note at the end of the book explained that perfectly.

The author touched on several minor things, the most major being domestic abuse, sexual assault, and child abandonment. Frances’s mother was beaten by her father at one point in the book. George and Frances overheard, and Frances locked George in her bedroom for what I assumed was her safety. The villain sexually assaulted Frances in the middle of the book, George had an attempted sexual assault by a different character, AND she was physically attacked in a public place by the villain. As with most domestic violence and sexual/physical assault in that time (and honestly, in this time too), people swept it under the rug. But the author did a great job of showing the after-effects of it. Frances’s and her mother’s demeanor the morning after their respective assaults were dead on, as was Frances talking Jonathan from going after her attacker. I wasn’t a big fan of how the author handled the rest of it, but it was true to form again.

I am also going to mention the child abandonment angle of the book. I felt for George, and I was so mad at her parents. They left without telling her, and she was shipped out to her aunt and uncle’s that day. After that, the only contact they had with George was a letter written to her by her father, asking for his book back. I didn’t blame George one bit for what she did after. I would have had the same reaction. It took George getting into trouble for them to come to the house, and even then, their knee-jerk reaction was to put George into a convent. I cheered (yes, literally cheered) when George’s aunt and uncle finally said, “That’s enough.” During Mrs. Burton’s speech, I cried where she reamed them out and claimed George as her own.

The end of Reputation was exciting. The author was able to wrap up all of the storylines in a way that made me very happy. George got her HEA on all ends. Several people got their HEAs too. It was the perfect ending for this book.

I would recommend Reputation for anyone over 16. Drug and alcohol use, sexual situations, mild language, rape (not graphic), and mild violence.

How to Love Your Neighbor by Sophie Sullivan

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

Date of publication: January 18th, 2022

Genre: Romance, Contemporary

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

Interior Design School? Check. Cute house to fix up? Check.

Sexy, grumpy neighbor who is going to get in the way of your plans? Check. Unfortunately.

Grace Travis has it all figured out. In between finishing school and working a million odd jobs, she’ll get her degree and her dream job. Most importantly, she’ll have a place to belong, something her harsh mother could never make. When an opportunity to fix up—and live in—a little house on the beach comes along, Grace is all in. Until her biggest roadblock moves in next door.

Noah Jansen knows how to make a deal. As a real estate developer, he knows when he’s found something special. Something he could even call home. Provided he can expand by taking over the house next door–the house with the combative and beautiful woman living in it.

With the rules for being neighborly going out the window, Grace and Noah are in an all-out feud. But sometimes, your nemesis can show you that home is always where the heart is.

First Line:

If she’d had to lay down money on which of her motely crew would cause the most trouble, Grace Travis would not have picked the chihuahua.

How to Love your neighbor by sophie sullivan

I was a little iffy about reading and reviewing How to Love Your Neighbor. I had been getting away from contemporary romances. No real reason; I just hadn’t been reading them as much as I had been. Then, I got the invite for How to Love Your Neighbor, and the blurb called to me. I thought it would be an enemy to lover’s romance, but it wasn’t. There was so much more to this book than what the blurb let on, and I am pretty happy that I read it.

How to Love Your Neighbors had a funny and engaging plotline. Grace is a fledgling interior designer who decided to move into her grandparents’ house. Noah is a big-shot real estate investor who moved from NYC to CA to get out from under his father’s thumb. They unofficially meet when the dogs from Grace’s side gig of dog walking bowl Noah over on the beach. They officially meet when Grace moves into her grandparent’s house, and Noah asks her to sell it to him to build a pool. But, when a prestigious home decor magazine takes notice of both Noah’s house and Grace’s talent, they are forced to work together. The more their feelings for each other grow, the more they are determined to fight it. But what happens when they don’t? Can they have a relationship and a good working relationship? Or will everything go back to what it was once the home rehab and magazine spread is done?

I loved Grace in How to Love Your Neighbor. She came from a rough upbringing (not knowing her father and a mother who could care less about her), and she was on track to realizing her dream. Inheriting her grandparent’s house, a space she could call her own, was a dream come true. So, I didn’t blame her when she acted the way she did when Noah came over and asked to buy the house. I also understood why she deliberately let Noah think that she couldn’t do the things that men “traditionally” do, and I loved it when she showed him up. But, there was also another side of Grace that made me sad. She wanted a relationship with her mother, and her mother (one of the most selfish characters I have ever read) took advantage of that. Unfortunately, it is a struggle that many adults with toxic parents deal with, and I liked how Grace ended up resolving it.

I loved Noah also. I will admit that I did get the wrong impression of him during the book’s first few chapters. He did come across as a pretty crappy guy. But, as the author went into his character’s background, I grew to love him. He was dealing with so much from his father, and he was also trying to find his way in CA. He spent a good part of the book feeling like he wasn’t amounting to anything and not getting anywhere. It wasn’t until almost the end that things started to come together for him.

The romance angle of the book was so sweet. I loved watching Grace and Noah fall in love. They both fought it, making it so much more precious to read.

There are a couple of nongraphic sex scenes in How to Love Your Neighbor. Now, I don’t mind explicit sex scenes, but nongraphic was the way to go in a book like this.

The end of How to Love Your Neighbor was your typical HEA. But what I loved was the epilogue (even if it wasn’t called that). It made me unbelievably happy, and looking forward to reading book 2.

I would recommend How to Love You Neighbor to anyone over 16. There are mild language and non-explicit sex scenes.

The Brightest Star in Paris by Diana Biller

Book Cover

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

Date of Publication: October 12th 2021

Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, Paranormal, France, Ghosts, Doctors

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

In Diana Biller’s The Brightest Star in Paris, love is waiting; you only have to let it in.

Amelie St. James, the prima ballerina of the Paris Opera Ballet and the people’s saint, has spent seven years pretending. In the devastating aftermath of the Siege of Paris, she made a decision to protect her sister: she became the bland, sweet, pious “St. Amie” the ballet needed to restore its scandalous reputation. But when her first love reappears, and the ghosts of her past come back to haunt her, all her hard-fought safety is threatened.

Dr. Benedict Moore has never forgotten the girl who helped him embrace life again after he almost lost his. Now, he’s back in Paris after twelve years for a conference. His goals are to recruit promising new scientists, and, maybe, to see Amelie again. When he discovers she’s in trouble, he’s desperate to help her—after all, he owes her.

When she finally agrees to let him help, they disguise their time together with a fake courtship. But reigniting old feelings is dangerous, especially when their lives are an ocean apart. Will they be able to make it out with their hearts intact?

First Line:

The Palais Garnier was three days away from dress rehearsals.

the brighest star in paris by diana biller

When I started reading The Brightest Star in Paris, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I had met Amelie and Benedict before. As the book went on and the story unraveled, that feeling intensified. Then Alma was introduced, and I went, “Ooooh, that’s where I remember Ben from!” What book was it? The Widow of Rose House. It took me almost to when Alma came to Paris (with Sam and the rest of the family) to realize that.

The Brightest Star in Paris isn’t officially part of a series but is connected to The Widow of Rose Haven. If it were part of a series, it would be book 2. It also could be read as a standalone. While the Moore family is a large part of the book, they do not take it over. Instead, the focus is on Amelie and Benedict, with the Moores’ staying in the background.

The plotline for The Brightest Star in Paris was fast-paced and well written. There was very little lag. The only lag that I noticed was right after Amelie’s collapse on stage. It didn’t last long, only about a chapter, and didn’t derail the book. Instead, it gave me a moment to collect my thoughts and prepare myself for what the rest of the book would bring.

I will admit, I didn’t know much about Edwardian Paris when I started reading The Brightest Star in Paris. I didn’t know about the invasion, the thousands of “rebels” that were killed, or the rebuilding that went on afterward. I was alternately shocked and in tears by what Amelie went through and what she did to survive. To see her gradually break free of the constraints that she put upon herself was a wonderful thing but heartbreaking at the same time.

I don’t remember much about Benedict from The Widow of Rose House, only that he was a surgeon in the Civil War and came back sick. Now, when they said ill, I thought it was a physical illness. Instead, the author painted a picture of a teenager who went to war and returned with PTSD. The author wrote about what happened to Benedict and how he dealt with his PTSD (which wasn’t a thing back then). He was right to say that Amelie saved his life the day she met him. Later on in the book, he became the rock that Amelie leaned on when her world shattered.

I liked Amelie, but I did wish that she let Benedict in sooner than she did. Or at least told him about what her sister’s father was trying to force her into doing. Her seeing ghosts and communicating with them did come as a surprise, but I did like that she didn’t freak out (much) when she realized that they were dead. She resolved two of her ghosts’ issues, and the third ghost decided to tag along with her. There was a neat twist to that plotline that I should have seen coming. Instead, it surprised me, along with Amelie, and it made so much sense.

There is romance in The Brightest Star in Paris. That romance was Amelie and Benedicts. Of course, Amelie almost messed it up, but the way she resolved it was pretty awesome!! This was a second chance romance, and I thought it was super sweet.

The end of The Brightest Star in Paris was pretty good. The author was able to resolve all of the storylines in a way that I liked. She also hinted at another book with either Benedict’s foster brother or younger sister (well, perhaps both??). I can’t wait to read that book!!

Not Your Average Hot Guy (Not Your Average Hot Guy: Book 1) by Gwenda Bond

Book Cover

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

Date of publication: October 5th, 2021

Genre: Romance, Paranormal, Contemporary

Series: Not Your Average Hot Guy

Not Your Average Hot Guy—Book 1

The Date from Hell—Book 2 (expected publication date: April 5th, 2022)

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

A paranormal romantic comedy at the (possible) end of the world.

All Callie wanted was a quiet weekend with her best friend. She promised her mom she could handle running her family’s escape room business while her mom is out of town. Instead a Satanic cult shows up, claiming that the prop spell book in one of the rooms is the real deal, and they need it to summon the right hand of the devil. Naturally they take Callie and her friend, Mag, along with them. But when the summoning reveals a handsome demon in a leather jacket named Luke who offers to help Callie stop the cult from destroying the world, her night goes from weird to completely strange.

As the group tries to stay one step ahead of the cult, Callie finds herself drawn to the annoying (and annoyingly handsome) Luke. But what Callie doesn’t know is that Luke is none other than Luke Morningstar, Prince of Hell and son of the Devil himself. Callie never had time for love, and with the apocalypse coming closer, is there room for romance when all hell’s about to break loose?

From New York Times bestselling author Gwenda Bond, Not Your Average Hot Guy is a hilarious romantic comedy about two people falling in love, while the fate of the world rests on their shoulders.

First Line:

“Hmm.” My mother puts her hands on her hips and inspects the waiting area with a slight frown.

not your average hot guy by gwenda bond

I knew I would like this book from the minute I read the blurb. I have been having a stressful couple of weeks, and I needed a book to make me laugh. And oh boy, did this book do that.

The synopsis for Not Your Average Hot Guy was pretty simple. Callie was left to run her mother’s escape room business for a weekend while her mother went out of town. Everything was supposed to go smoothly until the first group showed up. They turn out to be a cult who steals a grimoire, kidnaps Mags and Callie, and summons a demon. That demon turns out to be Luke Morningstar, the son of Lucifer Morningstar and Lilith (yes, that Lilith). What does that cult want? Well, they want to bring about the apocalypse….which Callie is against. So when Luke offers his help, Callie doesn’t hesitate to accept it. With the clock ticking, Callie and Luke rush to stop the cult. But Luke has a secret plan that he didn’t mention to Callie, and his growing feelings for her are threatening his goal. Will they be able to stop the cult from starting the apocalypse?

This book was fun to read. I giggle snorted during the entire book (and outright laughed in certain spots. Does MaHGA ring a bell….lmao). As I mentioned in the first paragraph, I needed a book like this due to my last few weeks.

I loved Callie. Her no-nonsense attitude and, most of all, her acceptance of everything that happened to her were remarkable. Plus, she didn’t hesitate to stand up for anyone she thought was wronged, and she had an excellent snarky attitude. I loved her interactions with Lucifer, Styx, Lilith, Mags, and just about everyone in the book.

I liked Luke, but he came across as almost too wishy-washy at the beginning of the book. It was not what I expected for someone who was the son of the Devil. But, as the book went on and as his character grew, I began to understand why the author wrote him that way. By the end of the book, I was 100% on team Luke.

Luke and Callie’s romance was very quick (think a day) and very much Instalove. But instead of making me roll my eyes, I ended up loving it.

Luke and Callie do have sex in Not Your Average Hot Guy. What I enjoyed about this is that the author decided not to make a big deal of it. One chapter ended with them going into the bedroom, and then the next was them getting ready to grab (aka steal) a globe that shows what is going on on Earth in real-time.

There is so much I could cover here, but I feel it would lead to a possible spoiler. I do want to address one thing: The Harry Potter references. I am not a huge Harry Potter fan (never pretended to be), but even I thought the comments about JK were a bit sus.

The end of Not Your Average Hot Guy was pretty funny. I got a laugh over the pygmy fainting goat named Cupcake. I also loved Lucifer wasn’t done meddling in Callie and Luke’s relationship.

I would recommend Not Your Average Hot Guy for anyone over the age of 16. There is language, violence, and sexual situations.

When Sparks Fly by Helena Hunting

When I read the blurb for When Sparks Fly, I knew that I needed to read it, one reason is that I love reading contemporary romances, and the other reason is that I have heard nothing but good things about Helena Hunting. I am glad that I read this book. It was what I needed to read.

I like the friends-to-lovers trope but feel that it is overused in romance novels. So I did go into reading the book thinking that When Sparks Fly would be typical in that regard. It isn’t. Declan and Avery’s slide into romance was one of the more natural romances that I have read in a while.

The plotline for When Sparks Fly was medium-paced. There was no lag in the book, and it was very well written.

I liked Avery. She had me laughing with her observations on life and Declan. I liked that she wasn’t portrayed as a shrinking violet. She wasn’t afraid to call Declan out on his stuff (like his extracurriculars). She did have her flaws, and they were on display in the book. But they were nothing compared to Declan’s.

Let’s talk about Declan. He was a freaking mess for 90% of the book. His childhood was less than ideal, and in turn, it turned him into a commitment-phobe adult who ran from his problems. But that didn’t excuse how he treated Avery during the last half of the book, though. He was a real douche canoe. But I did like him. The author didn’t make him perfect and chose to highlight his mental health issues.

The romance angle of When Sparks Fly was sweet. I loved seeing both realize that they were in love with the other person. It was a considerable whammy for Declan since he was using Avery’s relationship with his ex-best friend as a reason why he shouldn’t get with her. I loved seeing him realize that Avery was his person.

The sex scenes were hot in When Sparks Fly. I did giggle when Declan caught Avery masturbating. And I wasn’t surprised with how it ended up. I was a little “eh” when Avery told her sisters about it, though. I wouldn’t say I like kissing and telling (or, in this case: getting help with masturbating and telling).

I did like how mental health was portrayed in When Sparks Fly. Declan had some serious issues from his childhood that needed to be resolved before moving forward with any relationship. While I didn’t see his breakdown coming, I wasn’t surprised by it. But, I liked how his friends (and Avery) supported him. Having him going to therapy was a huge plus. I also like that his issues didn’t magically go away at the end of the book. Getting help was huge but Avery supporting him (and participating in the therapy) was even more significant.

The end of When Sparks Fly was sweet. And at the very end, it was perfect!! I did a lot of “Awww, so sweet” to myself as I was reading.

I would recommend When Sparks Fly to anyone over the age of 21. There is graphic sex, language, and mild violence.

The Dating Dare (A Sweet Mess: Book 2) by Jayci Lee

Book Cover

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

Date of publication: August 3rd, 2021

Genre: Romance, Contemporary

Series: A Sweet Mess

A Sweet Mess—Book 1

The Dating Dare—Book 2

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

Format Read: Unedited ARC

Received From: Publisher

Goodreads Synopsis:

Jayci Lee, the author of A Sweet Mess, returns with The Dating Dare—her next witty, chemistry-filled romantic comedy.

Tara Park doesn’t do serious relationships. Neither does she hop into bed with virtual strangers. Especially when that particular stranger is her best friend’s new brother-in-law. It isn’t an easy decision, though. Seth Kim is temptation personified. His unreasonably handsome looks and charming personality makes him easy on the eyes and good for her ego.

When a friendly game of Truth or Dare leads to an uncomplicated four-date arrangement with Seth, Tara can’t say she minds. But their dates, while sweet and sexy, have a tendency to hit roadblocks. Thankfully, their non-dates and chance meetings get frequent and heated.

Seth is leaving for a new job in Paris in a month and a no-strings-attached fling seemed like a nice little distraction for both… But soon Seth realizes that Tara Park doesn’t come in a “nice & little” package–she’s funny and bold, sweet and sexy, and everything he ever wanted and never expected to find. Neither of them are ready for something serious and both have past relationship baggage they’ve been ignoring, but with a shot at forever on the line will they follow their hearts and take a chance on happily-ever-after?

First Line:

The wedding was picture-perfect.

The Dating Dare by Jayci Lee

I was initially very excited to read The Dating Dare. I had read nothing but great reviews about it. So, when it came time for me to read it, I dove right in. I finished the book with a strong dislike for Tara, pity for Seth, and an overall sense of “meh

The Dating Dare is the 2nd book in the A Sweet Mess series. I would strongly suggest reading A Sweet Mess (book 1) before you read The Dating Dare. I had a hard time following different relationships (not romantic, friends), and I believe it would have helped if I had read A Sweet Mess first.

The plot for The Dating Dare was exciting and had a solid start. I like romances that have unconventional beginnings, and Tara and Seth’s most certainly did. But, towards the middle of the book, I started to lose interest which is sad because I enjoyed how it started.

As I mentioned above, I was not too fond of Tara. While I felt terrible for her (her backstory is sad), it gave her no excuse to treat Seth the way she did. She manipulated him on so many levels. After a while, just reading her interactions with him gave me a bad taste in my mouth. She did redeem herself a tiny bit by the end of the book (her whole confession was sweet), but I still didn’t like her.

I felt bad for Seth. He had a bad relationship and kept away from women, relationship-wise, for a long time (I am sure he did the nasty with rando people). So, he fell hard for Tara. Everything he did for her was sweet. She didn’t go to her prom; he recreated it. He played dragon with random kids in a park to be near her. I was halfway in love with him myself. So, I was frustrated when he kept accepting her apologies and dismissing her bad behavior. I wanted to shake him and say, “Drop her!!” But, of course, since this is a fictional book, you know how the story ends.

The romance angle of the book was sweet during the first half of the book. I sighed with every romantic thing that Seth did for Tara. But, by the end of the book, the romance had soured on me. Tara’s lousy behavior and Seth’s passiveness just killed that vibe for me.

The sex scenes were OK. Tara and Seth had sizzling chemistry that led to some hot kissing scenes. But once they had sex, the chemistry disappeared. It was mainly due to my dislike of Tara, but I couldn’t get into the sex scenes.

The end of The Dating Dare was predictable. I had guessed what Tara was going to do, and I knew what Seth’s response would be. If I had liked Tara more, I would have found joy at their HEA. But I didn’t. All I could feel was “meh.” I will read more of Jayci Lee’s books, though. I refuse to let one book color my opinion of an author.

I would recommend The Dating Dare for anyone over the age of 21. There are sexual situations (including nongraphic sex) and mild language.

Seven Letters by J.P. Monninger

Seven Letters

3.5 Stars

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

Date of publication: October 8th, 2019

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Where you can find Seven Letters: Barnes and Noble | Amazon | BookBub

Book Synopsis:

J. P. Monninger, author of the international bestseller The Map That Leads to You, the novel Nicholas Sparks called “romantic and unforgettable”, tells a poignant love story of the ways the world divides two souls—and the way that love brings them together.

Kate Moreton is in Ireland on sabbatical from her teaching position at Dartmouth College when she meets Ozzie Ferriter, a fisherman and a veteran of the American war in Afghanistan. The Ferriter family history dates back centuries on the remote Blasket Islands, and Ozzie – a dual citizen of Ireland and the United States – has retreated to the one place that might offer him peace from a war he cannot seem to leave behind.

Beside the sea, with Ireland’s beauty as a backdrop, the two fall deeply in love and attempt to live on an island of their own making, away from the pressures of the outside world. Ireland writes its own love stories, the legends claim, and the limits of Kate and Ozzie’s love and faith in each other will be tested. When his demons lead Ozzie to become reckless with his life—and Kate’s—she flees for America rather than watch the man she loves self-destruct. But soon a letter arrives informing Kate that her heroic husband has been lost at sea, and Kate must decide whether it is an act of love to follow him or an act of mercy to forget.

First Line:

The Irish tell a story of a man who fell in love with a fairy woman and went with her to live on an island lost to time and trouble.

Seven Letters by J.P. Monninger

My Review:

I don’t know why I kept putting this book off!!! Well, I understand why. Life got in the way, and it wasn’t at the top of my priority list, which happens to the best of us. So, when I realized that I missed the publication date (huge oops!!), I took Seven Letters off of the backburner and read it. It was a good read, and I really should have read it sooner.

Seven Letters went between having a fast-paced plotline, and a medium paced one. That did aggravate me while reading. It provoked me because I like my books to have one speed while reading. If I have to adjust my reading speed continuously, then it takes away from my experience. I also didn’t like that several secondary storylines were either ended abruptly or left hanging.

I liked Kate, but she annoyed me during the book. The choices she made were a huge source of irritation for me. Take her relationship with Ozzie, for instance. She knew he had issues (drinking, possible PTSD), and she jetted once the honeymoon phase was over. But, she did change. Her character matured, and she realized that her choices weren’t the right ones. By the end of the book, she was a different woman, and I liked it.

I felt terrible for Ozzie. But at the same time, I wanted to shake him and say, “Dude, get help!!”. He never told Kate about his time in the service (in his defense, though, she never asked). He never told her about his demons from that time. I do think that he was the better person when he let her go. He knew that his demons were too strong, and he couldn’t live with himself. He needed that time apart to heal.

The romance angle of the book got me. Kate and Ozzie burned fast and bright in the beginning. It was almost too quick and bright, and I knew that something was going to happen. By the second half of the book, they were floundering, and I did wonder if they would ever get past everything. But the end of the book, oh my. Talk about deep romance there. I was in tears from the minute Kate landed in Ireland to the very end.

The end of the book was hard to read. It got almost too much for me to read. I did guess at some of the ending details. The last letter, though, made my heart sing (and I did shed a few tears).

I would give Seven Letters an Adult rating. There is sex. There is language. There is violence. I would recommend that no one under the age of 21 read this book.

I would reread Seven Letters. I would recommend it to family and friends.

**I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book**