Together We Burn by Isabel Ibanez

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Wednesday Books

Date of publication: May 31st, 2022

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance, Dragons, Young Adult Fantasy

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

Eighteen-year-old Zarela Zalvidar is a talented flamenco dancer and daughter of the most famous Dragonador in Hispalia. People come for miles to see her father fight in their arena, which will one day be hers.

But disaster strikes during their five hundredth anniversary show, and in the carnage, Zarela’s father is horribly injured. Facing punishment from the Dragon Guild, Zarela must keep the arena—her ancestral home and inheritance —safe from their greedy hands. She has no choice but to take her father’s place as the next Dragonador. When the infuriatingly handsome dragon hunter, Arturo Díaz de Montserrat, withholds his help, she refuses to take no for an answer.

But even if he agrees, there’s someone out to ruin the Zalvidar family, and Zarela will have to do whatever it takes in order to prevent the Dragon Guild from taking away her birthright.

An ancient city plagued by dragons. A flamenco dancer determined to save her ancestral home. A dragon hunter refusing to teach her his ways. They don’t want each other, but they need each other, and without him her world will burn.


First Line:

My mother died screaming my name.

Together We Burn by Isabel Ibanez

I had been hearing a lot of hype around the blogoverse about Together We Burn before I got the invite to review it. With everything I had been hearing, I was very interested in reading it. So curious that I went and put it in my To Read pile. So when the publisher sent me the invite, I jumped on it. I am glad I did. This book was a great read!!

Together We Burn had an exciting plotline. Zarela is a flamenco dancer who lost her mother, a famous flamenco dancer when the dragon her father was fighting went rogue and burned everyone in the arena. Disaster strikes again when, during the 500th-anniversary show, another dragon broke free of his bonds and rained carnage on the arena. One of the dragon’s victims was Zarela’s father. He wasn’t killed but was severely injured. That left Zarela to deal with the backlash. Convinced it was sabotage, Zarela starts an investigation. She is also determined to return her family’s arena to its former glory. Her investigation into that day and her quest to bring the arena back are merged when she realizes that the attack was not random. Failing to convince the Dragon Guild that there was foul play behind the attack, Zarela is left with no choice but to fight the dragons herself. But, she only has days to learn. Can Zarela find out who is behind the attacks? Can she save her family’s arena? And more importantly, can Zarela learn to fight dragons and not get killed?

The plotline in Together We Burn moved slowly during the book’s first half. On the one hand, I liked it because it let me learn about Zarela’s background, the background of dragon fighting, and the tragedy of her mother’s death/the arena carnage. But on the other hand, the book started dragging by 40% of the book. But, after Zarela hires Arturo, the book picks up speed. By the end of the book, the plotline was super fast.

What I loved about this book was that the author included a glossary of the different types of dragons and other guilds in Hispalia. I can’t tell you how many times I used that glossary, and I wish every author would do something like that. I found it helpful while reading.

I liked Zarela. Even though she was devastated by what happened to her parents (and remember, it was two different occasions), she rose to the occasion. She was willing to do whatever it took to keep the arena afloat. That included learning how to fight dragons so she could keep her family’s arena. And that meant hiring a dragon hunter/ex-dragon fighter to teach how to survive in the arena. While doing that, she was also investigating what happened at the arena. I found her to be a very well-rounded character who surprised me.

Arturo didn’t become a central character until the middle of the book. He wanted nothing to do with Zarela at first. But, her stubbornness and resolve won him over. He was hard on her, which didn’t surprise me. He needed to teach her the basics of dragon fighting before the event that could save the arena. He also reluctantly became involved with her investigation into the events at the arena. He was instrumental in several key scenes towards the end of the book. The author wiped away doubts about him before the arena scenes at the end of the book.

Several memorable secondary characters breathed life into the book. They added additional depth to the storyline. I will not go into each one, but I enjoyed the flair they each added.

I loved how the author portrayed the dragons. She went from seeing them as ferocious creatures who lived to kill and maim to creatures who were misunderstood and wanted to be left alone. I loved it!!

The storyline with Zarela and the investigation was well written. I didn’t figure out who was behind everything until the author revealed that person. I was completely surprised by who it was and the reasons behind it.

The storyline with Zarela, Arturo, and learning how to fight dragons was interesting. I liked how Zarela convinced Arturo to work with her (the girl is stubborn). But, I also liked how Arturo showed Zarela a different side to dragons. The lessons made me wince, and Arturo was rough on Zarela. But considering she could die, he wasn’t harsh enough. And the twist to that plotline (what Zarela and Arturo figured out and used) was amazing!!

There was a romance angle in Together We Burn, but I was kind of meh about it. I liked that Zarela and Arturo got together but did the author need to discuss it? In my opinion, no.

The fantasy angle in Together We Burn was well written. I liked how the author chose to portray magic (both good and bad) along with dragons. That alone made me want to see more books written in this universe.

The end of Together We Burn was good. There were no twists (other than the dragon fight), and everyone did have their HEAs.

I would recommend Together We Burn to anyone over 16. There are sex and sexual situations (not graphic) and violence.

The Favor by Nora Murphy

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books

Date of publication: May 31st, 2022

Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Psychological Thriller, Contemporary

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

A gripping debut domestic suspense novel, The Favor explores with compassion and depth what can happen when women pushed to the limit take matters into their own hands.

Staying is dangerous. Leaving could be worse.

Leah and McKenna have never met, though they have parallel lives.

They don’t—ever—find themselves in the same train carriage or meet accidentally at the gym or the coffee shop. They don’t—ever—discuss their problems and find common ground. They don’t—ever—acknowledge to each other that although their lives have all the trappings of success, wealth and happiness, they are, in fact, trapped.

Because Leah understands that what’s inside a home can be more dangerous than what’s outside. Driving past McKenna’s house one night, she sees what she knows only too well herself from her own marriage: McKenna’s “perfect” husband is not what he seems. She decides to keep an eye out for McKenna, until one night, she intervenes.

Leah and McKenna have never met. But they will


First Line:

The key is to go to a few different stores.

The Favor by Nora Murphy

Thrillers, mainly psychological thrillers, are some of my favorite books. I love having my mind messed with by the book (not so much in real life, though). So, any invites that publishers send me that are immediately accepted. The Favor was one of those invites.

The Favor had an exciting plotline. Leah is a lawyer becoming an alcoholic after getting fired from her job. She sees McKenna at her favorite liquor store and immediately feels a connection with her. Following her home, Leah realizes that McKenna is in a similar situation because she is married to an abusive spouse. Leah starts stalking McKenna, and one night does the unthinkable. That starts off a series of events that will affect Leah and McKenna for the rest of their lives. Will Leah and McKenna be able to get away with what they did? Or will the police tie everything together?

I am going to throw a content warning up. Usually, I don’t give warnings, but I will in this case. Sexual (spousal rape), physical, emotional, and psychological abuse are featured. There is talk of and scenes of domestic violence. So, if you are triggered by this (and honestly, who wouldn’t be), I highly recommend not reading this book.

Leah was a hot mess. I felt awful for her when Liam started alienating her from her family, friends, and finally, her job. I didn’t blame her for turning to alcohol to dull the pain. But, when she witnessed what McKenna was going through, she decided to act. It was after helping McKenna that her true colors started to show. She was probably the strongest person in the book.

I liked McKenna, and my heart broke for her. She had it so much worse than Leah. Those scenes with her husband (the one where he found her birth control broke my heart). What broke it even more, was that she knew what she felt that she couldn’t get out. But, like Leah, she was a powerful woman.

I liked Jordan but felt that his character was almost added in as an afterthought. I got why the author included him-she wanted a view from the police’s POV. Still, I was not too fond of it. It served as a distraction to me.

The plotline with Leah and McKenna was wonderfully written. I was kept on the edge of my seat, wondering if the police would catch them. I was also wondering if McKenna would return the favor for Leah.

The plotline with Leah, McKenna, and Jordan kept me glued to the book. I spent the book wondering what Jordan knew and who he would arrest for Liam and Zachary’s murders.

The psychological thriller angle of The Favor was well written. I loved not knowing where this book would take me and with whom.

The end of The Favor was a complete surprise. But it was the twist in the epilogue that got me!!

I would recommend The Favor to anyone over 21. There is language, violence, and sexual situations. There are also scenes of domestic violence.

A Daring Pursuit (Ruthless Rivals: Book 2) by Kate Bateman

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

Date of publication: May 24th, 2022

Genre: Historical Romance, Romance, Regency

Series: Ruthless Rivals

A Reckless Match—Book 1 (review here)

A Daring Pursuit—Book 2

A Wicked Game—Book 3 (expected publication date: December 27th, 2022)

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

The Davies and Montgomery families have been locked in an ancient feud. But it’s a thin line between love and hate in Kate Bateman’s A Daring Pursuit.

TWO ENEMIES
Carys Davies is doing everything in her power to avoid marriage. Staying single is the only way to hide the secret that could ruin her—and her family—if it was revealed. For the past two seasons she’s scandalized the ton with her outrageous outfits and brazen ways in a futile bid to deter potential suitors. Outwardly confident and carefree, inside she’s disillusioned with both men and love. There’s only one person who’s never bought her act—the only man who makes her heart race: Tristan Montgomery, one of her family’s greatest rivals.

ONE SCANDALOUS BARGAIN
Wickedly proper architect Tristan needs a respectable woman to wed, but he’s never stopped wanting bold, red-headed Carys. When she mockingly challenges him to show her what she’s missing by not getting married, Tristan shocks them both by accepting her indecent proposal: one week of clandestine meetings, after which they’ll go their separate ways. But kissing each other is almost as much fun as arguing, and their affair burns hotter than either of them expects. When they find themselves embroiled in a treasonous plot, can they trust each other with their hearts, their secrets…and their lives?


First Line:

Lady Carys Davies dressed to meet her blackmailer in the same way she dressed for every other social occasion: scandalously.

A Daring Pursit by Kate Bateman

I am a big fan of Kate Bateman’s books. So much of a fan that I never turn down a review offer when the publisher sends me an email. I had been looking forward to reading A Daring Pursuit after finishing A Reckless Match. I couldn’t wait to see the fireworks between Tristan and Carys!! This book didn’t disappoint me.

A Daring Pursuit is the second book in the Ruthless Rivals series. While it is book 2 in the series, you can read this as a stand-alone.

A Daring Pursuit is Carys and Tristian’s romance. Carys doesn’t want to get married and does her best to deter suitors by acting and dressing scandalously. Even with that, she only has eyes for Tristian, her sister-in-law’s brother. Tristian has always been attracted to Carys, but their family’s rivalry and her behavior have kept him from acting on it. When Tristian finds Carys’s secret out, she challenges him with an indecent proposal: one week to awaken her sexually. They are both surprised when he says yes. But, as Carys’s secret becomes intertwined with another explosive one, Tristian is the only one she can turn to. Can years of mistrust be overcome? Can Carys trust Tristian with her heart, along with her life? Or will Carys’s secret be exposed?

I loved Carys. She was the exact opposite of what my vision of a Regency woman should be like. She wasn’t a blushing virgin who had no experience with sex. She also was highly educated and a knowledgeable woman who knew what she liked and disliked. So, her keeping such an explosive secret was definitely in character for her. Also in character was how direct she was with Tristian when she dared him to help her sexually.

I liked Tristian, but I thought he was a bit stuffy and very uptight. But, as the book went on and I got some insight into his backstory, I changed my mind. I loved that he saw a vibrant woman whenever he looked at Carys. I also loved that he built his house for her (even if he didn’t admit it at first). By the end of the book, I loved him.

The romance angle was cute. It was a combination of enemies to lovers/girl next door, and I loved it. I did wish that their romance was more fleshed out. But, in fairness, there was a lot of stuff going on in the book, and given Tristan and Carys’s history, I could see why the author didn’t do it.

I loved everything leading up to the sex scenes and the actual scene itself. I did think that Carys had a big pair of cajones for daring Tristan to help her. I was even more surprised that Tristan agreed. The author laid on the sexual tension thick, and honestly, I couldn’t get enough of it. When they finally did have sex, it was terrific.

The storyline with Tristian, Carys, and the indecent proposal was unique (see above). I loved seeing straight-laced Tristian fall for Carys and the other way around. I did think that a week wasn’t going to cut it, but the author made it work.

The storyline with Howe, Carys, Tristan, and the blackmail/treason was excellent. Howe left such a bad taste in my mouth. Every time he appeared, I wanted to throat punch him, and I did give Tristian props for not doing that. That man was slimy with a capital S. I loved how Tristian ferreted out the treason and saved Carys (and the bear…yes, a bear!!) in the end. Of course, Howe got what was coming to him. I cheered when his wife announced her news (and I giggled a little bit). Talk about karma!!

The end of A Daring Pursuit was excellent. I loved how the author brought everything together. I loved how she tied the storylines with Tristan and Carys’s romance. She also introduced the main characters for book 3 (which I can’t wait to read!!!).

I would recommend A Daring Pursuit to anyone over 21. There is somewhat graphic sex and mild 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.

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.

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.

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.

The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Date of publication: April 5th, 2022

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Fiction, Suspense, Adult, Contemporary

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

THE HUSBAND
A heart surgeon at the top of his field, Stephen Aston is getting married again. But first he must divorce his current wife, even though she can no longer speak for herself.

THE DAUGHTERS
Tully and Rachel Aston look upon their father’s fiancée, Heather, as nothing but an interloper. Heather is younger than both of them. Clearly, she’s after their father’s money.

THE FORMER WIFE
With their mother in a precarious position, Tully and Rachel are determined to get to the truth about their family’s secrets, the new wife closing in, and who their father really is.

THE YOUNGER WIFE
Heather has secrets of her own. Will getting to the truth unleash the most dangerous impulses in all of them?


First Line:

I cry at weddings. Nothing original there, I know – except, perhaps, the reason.

The Younger Wife by Sally Hepworth

I enjoy reading thrillers, and since I had read books by this particular author before, I was pretty eager to read this book. When I read the blurb for The Younger Wife, I knew that I wanted to read it. But then I read the book, and while I liked it, I was very disappointed by the last half of the book.

The Younger Wife has a straightforward plotline with three characters: Heather, Tully, and Rachel. Heather is marrying Stephen, a well-known heart surgeon who is recently divorced from Pam, suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s. But something isn’t quite right with Heather’s relationship with Stephen, and the closer to the wedding date, the more apprehensive she becomes. When Rachel discovers a note, along with almost a hundred thousand dollars, stuffed into a hot water bottle, she realizes that the father she knew is a stranger. He could be responsible for her mother’s sudden decline.

Meanwhile, Tully is dealing with her demons. Everything will come crashing together at the wedding. And when it does, will the question be answered? Or will everything stay the same?

The author did an excellent job of amping up the psychological thriller angle of the book. The way she wrote Heather and Stephen’s scenes (all while Heather was tipsy) made me wonder if Heather was clumsy or if Stephen was behind everything. It wasn’t until Heather got seriously hurt and then announced her pregnancy and what happened after that, that I started believing Heather.

Speaking of Heather, I did start not liking or trusting her. It was how she met Stephen and how fast she fell for him. Of course, she was hiding something, and I was irritated that the author kept dragging it out. I did figure it out about halfway through the book, but I was still surprised when she told Stephen. And I did do an eye-roll with his response. But, by the end of the book, my opinion of her changed, and I liked her.

I liked Rachel, and I pitied her when the author revealed her past trauma. But I did kind of eye-roll with how fast Heather figured it out with the revealed clues. I wasn’t even thinking that when Heather asked Rachel. I also felt terrible that she couldn’t ask Stephen questions about several key things. I also felt horrible that her trauma had such a terrific hold on her, manifesting in an eating disorder.

I was not too fond of Tully. I feel bad saying this because she was such a hot mess for the entire book. But she was awful. If she had even been likable, I might have had a smidgen more sympathy for her. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised when she hit rock bottom towards the end of the book. I wish the author had done it sooner because Tully, after her arrest, was more likable and more relatable. She was still a hot mess, but she was getting help, and by the end of the book, she seemed so much more relaxed.

The wedding storyline and the aftermath were well written. The author kept me guessing what happened until almost the end of the book. I was completely surprised at who killed Stephen and what drove that person to do it. I did not expect that person to do anything.

As I mentioned above, I loved the book until the last half. Then I felt that the author did a 180 and tried to play mind games with the readers. I was not impressed with what she did and how she played everything off. I read those chapters, plus the letter written, with a wide-open mouth. I couldn’t believe what I was reading compared to the evidence given in the first half of the book.

I do want to warn you that several scenes might trigger someone. There are scenes of rape (not graphic), domestic abuse, miscarriage, eating disorders, kleptomania, nursing home abuse, alcoholism, and child abuse. If you think that any of these might trigger you, I strongly suggest not reading The Younger Wife.

I would recommend The Younger Wife to anyone over 21. There are several triggers, which are detailed in the paragraph above. There is also mild violence, language, and very mild sexual scenes.