Owl Manor: Abigail (Owl Manor: Book 2) by Zita Harrison

Publisher: Zealous Arts Publishing

Date of Publication: August 13th, 2020

Genre: Gothic, Horror

Series: Owl Manor

Owl Manor—The Dawning: Book 1 (review here)

Owl Manor—Abigail: Book 2

Owl Manor—The Final Stroke: Book 3

Purchase Links: Amazon | Indigo

Goodreads Synopsis:

14 years ago, Owl Manor trembled with echoes of madness, mysterious deaths, and marauding owls.

In 1870, Abigail fled the horror of Owl Manor with her fiancé, Peter. But she carried with her the terrible notion that she is unworthy of love, instilled by her reluctant mother. If her own mother could not love her, how would anyone else?

She trusts no one and keeps herself buried in a crypt of churning emotions, away from the world. Deep inside, her soul screams at the thought of dying alone and unloved.

Now she is back. Abandoned at the altar, and with nowhere to go, she returns to Owl Manor. Thus begin the nightmares of violent rage and destruction, ghostly images.

What really happened 14 years ago?

Enter Victor, the complete opposite of Peter, yet frighteningly familiar at times.

And the owls circle the sky once again.


First Line:

The white owl sat on the gnarled limb of a tree, deep in the gloom of the woods, its ghostly feathers frothy in the cold.

Owl Manor—Abigail by Zita Harrison

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked Owl Manor: The Dawning. So, picking up Owl Manor—Abigail was easy for me. And I am glad that I did because this book was just as fantastic as the first book.

Owl Manor—Abigail starts 14 years after the events of Owl Manor—The Dawning. Abigail, raised by the remaining staff at Owl Manor, is now a young lady. Living in New York City, she is engaged to Peter, an up-and-coming lawyer. But, when Peter gets cold feet and leaves Abigail at the altar, she returns to Denver and Owl Manor. After opening a long-term boarding house at the manor, Abigail is introduced to an exciting group of people. Victor, a boarder, has caught Abigail’s eye. But there is something very unsettling and something familiar about Victor. Abigail doesn’t have time to dwell on that because the owls have returned and, with them, murder. Who has riled the owls up, and what is that person’s connection to the house? Will Abigail, her staff, and her boarders survive a murderer in their midst?

Owl Manor—Abigail is the second book in the Owl Manor trilogy. While you don’t need to read book 1 to understand what is going on in this book, I do highly recommend reading it. The backstories of Abigail, Patty, and the house are quickly explained, but reading book one will give you some insight into what is going on in this book.

I felt terrible for Abigail in this book. Her mother’s neglect turned Abigail into a person who was afraid to open herself up. I was internally cursing Eva for what she did to that poor girl. I did think that Abigail was a little rude during the book. There were several scenes where she berated servants and her boarders for talking about ghosts. But there was a reason behind her doing it: Abigail didn’t want that gossip attached to her boardinghouse. She was trying to run a respectable business, and that gossip would turn people away. When Abigail started getting involved with Victor, I was happy. I felt that she could finally be happy. The author decimated that idea in the next chapter—all I could do after that was read and see where and how her story would end.

I thought Victor was an interesting character to read. I understood why he wanted to keep his identity a secret at first. He was trying to figure out who Abigail was and why she ended up with Rafe’s money and house. I think his feelings for Abigail were true in the beginning. But, as the book went on, his slow slide into madness was genuinely riveting. The author weaved his story around Rafe’s so that they became the same, and I loved it!!

The love triangle between Peter, Abigail, and Victor was interesting. I wasn’t a big fan of Peter when he showed up. The guy left Abigail at the altar and stewed for months afterward, trying to figure out his feelings. I was 100% team Victor until one of the servants overheard some interesting information at the local pub. At that point, I was content to sit back and see how the author would unfold this triangle. And I wasn’t disappointed!!

The storyline about the manor, what happened before, and how it was connected to the murders was amazingly written. That storyline was one of the main reasons why I couldn’t put the book down. I couldn’t figure out who the murderer was. I thought it was someone else until that person was killed. And when the author revealed who it was, I couldn’t believe it.

The horror angle of the book was well written. This book kept me up at night (after I finished it). I kept thinking about Owl Manor and how evil it was. I couldn’t understand why Abigail didn’t take the advice in the end. I know I would have.

There is a paranormal element to the book that is amazing. The author took your typical haunted house/possession and made it her own. The parallels between the first book were uncanny, and hearing Rafe asking for Eva (through Victor) was chilling. And it got even more chilling as the book went on.

I wasn’t surprised at the end of Owl Manor—Abigail. But I was surprised at who survived and how a specific person met his end. The way the author ended the book, I knew there was going to be a book 3, and I was very excited to read it.

I would recommend Owl Manor—Abigail to anyone over 16. There is violence, mild language, and no sexual situations (other than some kissing).


If you enjoyed Owl Manor—Abigail, you will enjoy these books:

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.

Shadowed Origins (The Guardians: Book 2) by Reily Garrett

Publisher:

Date of publication: June 3rd, 2022

Genre: Romance, Suspense, Fantasy

Series: The Guardians

Shadowed Horizons—Book 1 (review here)

Shadowed Origins—Book 2

Shadowed Passages—Book 3

Purchase Links: Amazon

Goodreads Synopsis:

Ashlyn has spent years hiding her ability to connect with animals, especially dogs. After escaping the clutches of her guardian, she’s determined to remain free and bring the psychopath to his knees.
The terrorist’s plan for mass annihilation and anarchy requires her talent, and he will stop at nothing to reclaim his unique and invaluable prize.
Taylor’s telekinesis and special-ops training granted him seamless passage to work with Kenner’s paranormal unit. When he rescues a young woman from the clutches of her sadistic guardian, he’s unprepared for the emotional backlash created by their connection.
Forging ahead on the narrow path of freedom dictates keeping an eye on the rearview—for death and destruction dog their every mile.


First Line:

Ashlyn never considered the face of evil taking a physical form, with a fist to match.

Shadowed Origins by Reily Garrett

I have been looking forward to reading Shadowed Origins since I finished Shadowed Horizons. I had questions from the first book that I hoped would be answered in this one. And guess what, the author answered all of my questions. The author left me with questions about Ashlyn and Keira’s older brother. But he is the focus of book three, and I am sure the author will answer those questions for me in that book.

Shadowed Origins is the second book in The Guardians series. This book is not stand-alone. You need to read book 1 to understand what is happening in book 2.

Before I get into the review, I want to throw up a trigger warning. If you have been following my blog for a while, then you know how rare it is for me to do this. The main character, Ashlyn, has been abused (in all ways except sexual) by her captor, Roth. The author includes some scenes of the verbal, psychological, and physical abuse that Ashlyn has endured. So, if this triggers you, I strongly suggest not reading Shadowed Origins.

Shadowed Origins is Ashlyn’s story. Ashlyn has been held captive by Roth for her entire life. She has spent most of her captivity trying to escape Roth, but he has always caught her. Ashlyn had her next escape planned out, and it would have ended the same way except, this time, Ashlyn had help. She was aided by a group of men with similar powers that she and Roth possessed. Ashlyn discovers her powers (she can communicate with animals) and uses that power to protect herself against Roth’s numerous attempts to take her back. She also discovers that she has an identical twin sister who shares the same powers, and she realizes that she is falling in love with Taylor, an ex-special forces op who is also telekinetic. Will Roth succeed in taking back Ashlyn? Will she be able to meet her sister? Will she find out who is funding Roth?

I liked Ashlyn. Even though Roth abused her, she still had an optimistic view of life. She tried to find ways to escape him, and she resisted him in almost every way—which caused Roth to lash out. I thought that her plan to escape him out the bathroom window would fail (Roth had given her a sedative to keep her compliant). So, I was surprised when it didn’t fail and when Taylor and his group came to her aid. From then on, I enjoyed watching her character grow to become a young woman with confidence in her abilities. She was also able to see what/form healthy relationships look like and was instrumental in bringing the two groups together. I also loved her delight when she discovered that she had an identical twin sister and her nervousness about meeting her (Keira was an unknown and in a group that Kenner, the leader, thought was the enemy). She was a fantastic character to read, and I can’t wait to see more of her in the upcoming books.

I liked Taylor also. The author didn’t make him as fleshed out as Ashlyn, but he was still a fascinating character. He did not want a relationship because the death of his wife did affect him. But he was very attracted to Ashlyn, and he was also very protective. I liked seeing him slowly realize his feelings for Ashlyn. I also liked seeing him use his powers. His telekinesis was no joke. It was also satisfying to see him eat a bit of crow when his group finally met the other group. He was a little aggressive with that group.

Roth was one evil dude. The author didn’t get into his character in Shadowed Horizons, but in this book, she let loose with him. He was a true psychopath who enjoyed hurting people. He kept human eyes in glass jars in his office, and that grossed me out. But, there was a huge twist in his plotline that I didn’t see coming and I hope gets explained more in book 3. I did feel that he got what he deserved in the end, and I loved who gave it to him!!

The plotlines involving Roth and both groups were well written. I liked how the author finally had both groups meet after so many misconceptions about each other. I also liked how they teamed up to beat Roth and his people.

The end of Shadowed Origins was pretty awesome. I liked how the author wrapped up Ashlyn and Kiera’s storylines. She introduced Logan, Ashlyn and Kiera’s older brother, at the very end of the book (well, the concept of him), so I figure the next book will be about him. She also left the plotline for who Roth was working for, and I am very interested to see where that will end up.

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.

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 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.

Never Broken (Lisa Jamison: Book 2) by Lori Duffy Foster

Publisher: Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), Members’ Titles, Level Best Books

Date of publication: April 12th, 2022

Series: Lisa Jamison

A Dead Man’s Eyes—Book 1 (review here)

Never Broken—Book 2

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense

Purchase Links: Amazon | B&N

Goodreads Synopsis:

The near corpse of a stranger had no idea where he’d been, how long he’d been there or who had kept him captive. But one thing intrigued journalist Lisa Jamison even more than his story: recent memories of a woman named Chandra Bower.


Seven years had passed since Chandra disappeared from Seneca Springs without a trace. Police investigators still compared DNA records whenever an unidentified body appeared, hoping to at least bring her family closure. Lisa still chased down leads from desperate family and friends, being careful to hide her investigations from an editor who thought she’d become obsessed with a woman who was clearly dead.

But this man had just seen her, sewing designer clothes in a dark, filthy basement with about twenty other men and women under horrifically inhumane conditions. And the sweatshop workers all had one thing in common: All were people of color.


A split-second decision to help the man takes Lisa on a race against time. His captors want him back, there is evidence someone on the police force might be involved and the man knows that if he were recaptured, they would torture him until he revealed the names of the two people who helped him escape: Lisa Jamison and Chandra Bower.

Lisa promised her teenage daughter she would stay away from the dangerous stories ever since her job had nearly gotten them both killed two years before. But she no longer has a choice. She must keep the stranger hidden while she gathers enough evidence to turn the case over to city police or the FBI. At least three lives—her own, the stranger’s and Chandra’s—depend on it.


First Line:

Lisa Jamison knew she should be taking in her surroundings, the worn brick buildings with shard-lined windows; graffiti so old the slang was almost retro; the stench from the nearby creek, which many of the deserted factories had used as their own waste dumps for decades; the cigarette butts; the crushed beer cans; the McDonald’s cups; the occasional used condom or syringe.

never broken by lori duffy foster

When the author approached me to read/review Never Broken, I had to think about it. When she emailed me, I was very behind in reading and reviews. But, I have a thing where if I start a series, I will finish it. That and the blurb, which interested me, were ultimately the main reasons I decided to accept the invite. I am glad that I did.

Never Broken had an exciting plotline. This book takes place two years after the events of A Dead Man’s Eyes. Lisa is a journalist covering a story in a very seedy area (that is about to be revitalized) when she discovers a sick man hiding in the back seat of her car. Saul tells Lisa an interesting story about illegal sweatshops and the mysterious people who run them. But her attention is caught he mentions the name of an African American woman who had disappeared years earlier. Deciding to investigate, Lisa needs the help of Dorothy to keep Saul safe. What Lisa finds during her investigation shakes her to her core. Can she oust the sweatshop owners and save the workers, including Chandra? Or will she have to choose between her job and her family?

Never Broken is book 2 in the Lisa Jamison series. Readers can read this book as a standalone. But, I do suggest reading book 1 to understand Lisa’s backstory. It is gone over, very briefly, in Never Broken, but it is more in-depth in book 1.

The main thing that I liked about Never Broken was that the author was able to take me into how investigative journalist does their job. I had a rough idea of how they did their job. But, I never knew how much work went into it. A good majority of the book was Lisa chasing down leads, casing the neighborhood where she thinks Saul came from and talking to the people in the community. I also didn’t realize how dangerous it could be. At one point, Lisa got run down by a car because she was coming close to where the sweatshop was. That sent chills up my spine and made me thankful that I didn’t pursue my high school dream of being a reporter.

I loved Lisa in this book. She was quick on her feet, and her intuition was incredible (chefs kiss here). She was also still a devoted mother, and when things started to get hairy, her first thoughts were of her daughter and how to keep her safe. She was also human. The horror and pity she felt when she first saw Saul was palpable. I also got why she didn’t trust anyone she worked with. She was almost killed by a fellow reporter, one she considered her friend, and she didn’t trust anyone other than her editor. So, I got why she was hesitant to bring Frank with her on interviews.

What do I say about Saul? He was a wonderful human being. The strength (mental and physical) that he showed throughout the book was terrific. Of course, he was damaged. Wouldn’t you be if you were forced to work in a basement and treated as less than a human? I loved seeing him open up to Dorothy and begin the healing he needed.

Dorothy was the other main character in Never Broken. She was mentioned a few times in the first book but never was made into much of a character. Well, in this book, she was one of the main characters. My heart broke when she realized she felt so protective of Saul because of an unspeakable loss she had experienced years earlier. Saul reminded her of her son. She was also a bad b*tch who wouldn’t give up Saul, no matter what.

The secondary characters fleshed out this book. They brought an extra depth to the storyline (not that it needed it). I was disappointed that Lisa’s daughter was brought down to a secondary character. She had no place in this story (other than helping Dorothy with Saul a few times). But, as the book went on, I got it.

The mystery angle was terrific. I was genuinely kept on edge about who was the sweatshop owner and who was behind Lisa’s assaults. The author did throw out some red herrings throughout the book. I thought I figured it out when an arrest was made. Then the twist came, and I was like, “Wait, what?

The suspense angle was also excellent. I wanted to know if Saul would make it. I also wanted to know if Lisa would figure out where the sweatshop was and who was operating it. The author did a superb job of keeping me glued to the book.

The end of Never Broken was a bit anti-climatic. The author wrapped up the storylines in a way that satisfied me. She also showed the aftermath of everything that had happened. I did like that Lisa got a little bit of happiness at the very end, and I wonder if that will morph into something for book 3.

I would recommend Never Broken for anyone over 21. There is violence, language, and no sexual situations. There are also scenes of modern-day slavery, a forced abortion, and talk of rape.

Spies Never Swoon (Banana Girls: Book 2) by M. Taylor Christensen

Book Cover

Publisher: Moon Zoom Press

Date of publication: November 27th, 2021

Genre: Young Adult, Mystery

Series: Banana Girls

Spies Never Quit—Book 1 (review here)

Spies Never Swoon—Book 2

Purchase Links: Amazon

Goodreads Synopsis:

Anna doesn’t care if the prince is charming. She only has to keep him alive.

Agent Anna Rivers is no stranger to sabotage, mysterious attacks, or high-speed car chases, so the assignment to protect Prince Leopold from an unknown foe should be no problem. But his constant flirting will definitely test her resolve to not get romantically involved on a mission. Can she save the prince and guard her heart at the same time?

If you enjoy kick-butt spy-girls and charming princes, you’ll love SPIES NEVER SWOON, the second book in the Banana Girls series where the romance is sweet and the suspense is cozy.


First Line:

Sitting in the glittering four-story atrium of the most luxurious hotel in downtown Atlanta wasn’t exactly how Anna Rivers had planned to spend her Friday evening.

Spies never swoon by M. taylor christensen

When the author contacted me to read/review Spies Never Swoon, I couldn’t say “Yes” fast enough. I had enjoyed Spies Never Quit, and I had been waiting to see when the second book would be published.

Spies Never Swoon is book 2 in the Banana Girls Series. Readers can read this book as a standalone, which I find myself rarely saying in my reviews. Mari and her boyfriend (plus the other Banana Girls) appear in Spies Never Swoon, but they stay in the background.

Spies Never Swoon is Anna’s story. Anna has two weeks to figure out who is behind the attacks on Prince Leopold’s bodyguards. Anna figures it will be a quick assignment, but it ends up being one of the hardest she has ever done. She has to deal with a mysterious attacker, a flirtatious prince, uncooperative coworkers, and her feelings towards Leo. Can she figure out who is behind the attacks, why they are doing it, and not let her emotions get in the way of the job?

Anna was first introduced in Spies Never Quit when she saved Mari from thugs and brought her into the Banana Girl fold. So, I was thrilled to see that this book was about her. I loved her in this book. Not only was she tough, but she was super smart. I could see why her boss picked her to solve the mystery.

I wasn’t a big fan of Leo when the book started. But, as the book went on and the author revealed Leo’s layers, I began to like him. He ended up being one of my favorite people in the book by the time it ended.

The mystery angle of Spies Never Swoon was very well written. I had thought I guessed who was behind everything by the end of the book. So, when the book’s climax happened, I was 100% shocked about who the bad guys were. The author threw out red herrings and then wrote a twist that took me some time to wrap my head around.

The romance angle of Spies Never Swoon was also well written. There is no sex and a couple of kissing scenes. I liked that, seeing that the author wrote this book for teenagers. Saying that, though, Anna and Leo’s chemistry was excellent.

I never write about this, but the action-angle of Spies Never Swoon was terrific. I was sucked right into the scene and left it feeling breathless. Loved it!!!

The end of Spies Never Swoon was fantastic. I loved how the author ended the storyline but left it open for book 3.

I would recommend Spies Never Swoon for anyone over the age of 16. There is violence and some mild language.

The Sultan’s Court (Pirates & Puritans: Book 2) by R.A. Denny

Book Cover

Publisher:

Date of publication: October 14th, 2021

Genre: Historical Fiction, Time Travel, Science Fiction

Series: Pirates & Puritans

The Alchemy Thief—Book 1 (review here)

The Sultan’s Court—Book 2

Purchase Links: Amazon


Goodreads Synopsis:

A vivid and powerful sequel to The Alchemy Thief. A tale of stolen secrets, kidnapping, slavery, and death.

Left behind as a slave in Morocco while Daniel journeys to the New World with the fearsome corsair Ayoub, Peri gives birth to a daughter. The drive to protect the imperiled lives of those she loves leads Peri to the court of the ruthless sultan, Moulay Ismail. In a city built on the backs of slaves, Peri’s rescue plot hangs by a thread, dependent on a dubious disguise and the man she despises. It will take all of her wit and perseverance to survive.

This spellbinding 2nd novel in the Pirates and Puritans Series takes the reader on a journey from Algonquin villages to Moroccan palaces, during the time when Morocco’s most feared leader rose to power and the American colonies sank into a bloody war named after Metacom.


First Line:

“Push!” the midwife instructed Peri, while Hennu supported the Christian slave girl’s shoulders from behind.

the sultan’s court by r.a. denny

The Sultan’s Court is book 2 in the Pirates and Puritans series. I was very excited when the author emailed me with a request to review it. I wasn’t disappointed!! I had enjoyed The Alchemy Thief and couldn’t wait to jump right into this book.

As I mentioned above, The Sultan’s Court is book 2 in the Pirates and Puritans series. I cannot stress this enough, but this book is not stand-alone. The author briefly goes over what happened in book one, but you need to read The Alchemy Thief to understand the relationships and motives. If you don’t, you will be lost and slightly confused.

The author did something that some authors don’t do enough of. She included maps of the different areas discussed in the books (present and past). Having those maps helped me a bunch while reading the book.

There were three significant points of view in The Sultan’s Court and two minor points of view. The critical points of view are Ayoub, Peri, and Daniel, with Liam and Brahim’s minor points of view. The book also goes between 1650 (ish) and the present day. The author does it seamlessly with each chapter saying who the POV is, where, and year. I had zero issues keeping the chapters straight.

The plotline for The Sultan’s Court was interesting. Instead of focusing on alchemy and time travel, it focused on Peri, Ayoub, and Daniel surviving and trying to find a niche in their new worlds. It made for a fascinating read.

There is religion in The Sultan’s Court, but it isn’t shoved down your throat, which I hate. Instead, I got to see how people from that era practiced Native American, Christianity, and Islam religions. The author also gave a small glimpse of extreme Islamists during Brahim and Liam’s POV. It was all very fascinating, and I couldn’t read enough of it.

Of all the characters in the book, I enjoyed reading Ayoub’s point of view the most. His character grew the most throughout the book. It was a gradual growth, but it showed at the end of the book. The conversation that he and Peri had before Ayoub left broke my heart. As did his realization that other people were traumatized like him but didn’t go down his extremist route. But most importantly, his behavior at the very end and his choice to help Peri and Daniel showed his real growth.

I also enjoyed reading Peri’s chapters. She was a devoted mother who gave everything to make sure that her child survived. I also understood why she did what she did when the Sultan took Mya away. As a mother with a child the same age, I would have done the same thing.

I was a little iffy about Daniel. He disappeared for a while from the book. When he was reintroduced, he was an almost different person (which I get, people change in 17 years). It seemed like he had practically forgotten Peri. He became a Mohawk and killed enough people that the tattoos formed a pattern on his face. It wasn’t until after his 2nd wife and children died that he decided to look for Peri. I go that he was tortured and then forced to marry into the tribe, but still. Then I felt terrible for him. He seemed to get the short end of the stick no matter where he went.

Liam was still a man-child who irritated me. But, I did figure out why he was being treated differently the minute they arrived where they were. Then I felt terrible because he didn’t see it until the very last minute.

Brahim, on the other hand, confused me. He came across as an extremist, but then the author did something that took me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting what happened with him to happen.

There is violence in The Sultan’s Court, and some of it was a little graphic. I was a little taken aback by one scene where Peri witnessed the Sultan execute a slave, order his body dumped into a wall (and all I could think was: the smell), then a cat was brutally killed when it wanted to get down. There are other similar scenes sprinkled throughout the book. But, seeing the era it took place in, I expected it.

The end of The Sultan’s Court was terrific. I was glued to the book and couldn’t finish it fast enough. What I didn’t expect was the twist the author threw in!!! It took me by surprise, and I loved it. Now, I can’t wait for book 3 (yes, there will be a book 3!!!)

All Night Long with a Cowboy (Kittredge Ranch: Book 2) by Caitlin Crews

Jensen Kittredge was kicked back in his favorite booth in the most disreputable bar in town, enjoying the usual spoils of a fine Saturday night.

All Night Long with a Cowboy by Caitlin Crews

All Night Long with a Cowboy is the 2nd book in the Kittredge Ranch series. I am not a big fan of picking up books mid-series, but this series is set in the same world as the Cold River Ranch series. Since I had read that series and was familiar with some of the characters, I had no issues reading this book. But, I suggest that you read book one to get a complete background on the Kittredge family.

The main plotline in All Night Long with a Cowboy is the romance between Harriet and Jensen. It is your typical opposites attract trope. What made this book great to read is that there were layers to both Harriet and Jensen. And those layers were peeled back and explored during the book.

There is a secondary plotline involving Aidan Hall. I was a little put off by two things about that plotline. One being that Aidan was screaming out for help and everyone played ostrich. Everyone except Harriet and she had to bulldoze Jensen into helping him. The other was that there was this expectation that Aidan would end up like his father, uncles, and grandfather. That made me almost blow a gasket when Jensen first told Harriet that. And I got even madder when Jensen said it to Aidan!!! But everything did turn out for the best. Still, that was the maddest I have been for a secondary character in a long time.

I like Harriet. I liked that she marched to the beat of her own drummer. She was a self-proclaimed cat lady (she had five cats). But I felt that she was a little two-dimensional at times. Her character didn’t feel as fleshed out to me as it should have. But then again, The author wrote Jensen to be larger than life, and he did take over scenes with her.

I liked Jensen too. I did feel that his backstory (about what happened when he was a teenager and the damage his childhood did to him) was dragged out. But I did appreciate it when he told Harriet about Daniel. That was his first step towards healing. I also got why he never changed people’s minds about him. All they saw was the fire jumper who was up for a good time, the man whore who never stayed two nights in a row. Instead, who Jensen was deep down was not even close to that image.

The romance angle of the book was well written. Jensen and Harriet had some serious chemistry going on. It was apparent from the beginning that they were going to have fireworks. And oh boy, did they!!

The end of All Night Long with a Cowboy was interesting. I liked the peek into the future that the author gave with Jensen and Harriet. I also couldn’t tell who book three is going to be about.


I would recommend that anyone over the age of 21 read All Night Long with a Cowboy. There is graphic sex, mild language, and some mild violence.