The last of a trilogy, and it feels like it—this was a nostalgic run through of this series' highlights and a long-awaited romance from two opposing characters. Bring on the tension, the drama, and the steam! (And a house-flip reality TV show?? I should probably mention that first.)
Standalone factor: ★
Overall Enjoyment: ★★★★ 1/2
Tools of Engagement comes out on September 22!
So, real quick - NO, this is not a standalone despite what the marketing says. This is the third book in a trilogy of related characters in a small town and it feels like it. This was SO not a bad thing for me, a devoted reader to the series, but might be for you so please keep that in mind.
Bethany Castle lives a flawless life. No really, she totally does. Ignore the fact that she's hyperventilating in the corner and has a stress rash on her neck and is incapable of letting anyone know the crushing level of perfectionism that keeps her awake at night. Everything is fine, life is perfect, and she is a flawless 30 year old.
The only in Bethany's "perfect" life that upends her image is Wes Daniels.
A cowboy hat wearing, 23-year-old freewheeling guy who lived a spontaneous life until his half sister dumped her 5 year old niece in his lap, Wes Daniels works for Stephen Castle (Bethany's older brother) and flips houses. Wes has been circling Bethany for months and he thinks he's got her number: one day the tension will snap, and they're going to settle things in the sheets.
But then Wes sees the Perfect Life™ of Bethany's dreams is actually just a flimsy sheet in the wind and he realizes that this isn't a game—it's something bigger.
Now let's add in the fact that Bethany and her brother Stephen are asked to compete in a "Flip Off" HGTV reality show of epic sibling rivalry proportions and we've got ourselves some DRAMA.
Will Bethany and Wes get to the good stuff, or will Bethany's need for perfection collapse on top of them under the pressure of the film lights?
Ready, set, ACTION.
What an ending to this trilogy! This installment takes the characters' careers (house building and flipping) to its most literal interpretation: an HGTV competition show. As someone who normally doesn't like the "movie set" life depicted in books, I could handle this one because it really didn't matter to the plot. This was very much a story about Bethany and Wes, and barely involved the "movie" element at all.
This was also the least steamy of the three books, which was interesting. Given the crackling dialogue between Wes and Bethany in the first books, I was ready for some serious steam. There was steam... but I'd almost call it tame compared to Fix Her Up and Love Her or Lose Her. Something to note for those who really enjoyed that element of Bailey's other books.
Like I said at the beginning, if you're new to this series this is NOT the book to start on. Wes and Bethany's plot line relies heavily on prior knowledge of their interactions in the previous books, and their side plots with the other characters are absolutely meaningless without that added background.
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
I adore this series. Historical romance with a slap of women's suffrage? BRING it, babe, and keep them coming.
Historic vibes: ★★★★ 1/2
Witty dialogue: ★★★★★
A Rogue of One's Own comes out on September 1, 2020!
This is fast becoming one of my favorite series in the niche genre of historical romances. Neck in neck with Tessa Dare's Girl Meets Duke series, this is filled to the brim with witty banter, sharp women, self aware yet powerful men, and a historical setting with a refreshingly modern sense of female independence. (Okay, that last one obviously bends the rules of "historical accuracy," but excuse me... this is a romance and I'm not complaining.)
Lucie is not happy. A woman who has given up her reputation in society and worked herself to the bone for The Cause (women's rights), Lucie is finally at the point where she and her team of Oxford suffragists have successfully landed a spot to shine the light on their cause: They've purchased 50% of the shares of a publishing house, and they mean to use them to fight the good fight and spread the word.
The only thing in Lucie's way is Lord Tristan Ballentine.
Tristan and Lucie grew up together, and Lucie cannot BELIEVE that at this moment, the most important moment of her Cause, it's Tristan standing in her way. As far back as she can remember, it was Tristan in her path. He threw pranks her way, he never left her alone, and he never disappeared from her line of sight. Of course, these days he's keeping himself in her life by flaunting his lovers and sexual escapades in the society's gossip rags.... but still.
Tristan Ballentine has bought the other 50% of shares at the publishing house.
Lucie's not about to let that stand. She's ready for battle, and as always, Tristan is there ready to spar. What could possibly make Tristan do this?
Well, if the man has been infatuated with the spitfire suffragist since she was old enough to slap him at the age of 13, that's his business. He's spent decades doing everything he possibly can to provoke a reaction from Lucie. But this time, Tristan's actions aren't necessarily about Lucie, and he's found himself on the other side of the sparring field quite by accident.
He guesses it's time to see how far this can go. Oh dear, Lucie. Get ready for a ride.
LOVED this, folks. Perfectly paced hate-to-love romance, with a huge dash of mutual angst and pining because, duh, it's also historical. One of the best elements of historical romances is the strict society rules, and how our heroes decide to subvert them. This story was no exception. Their ending was perfect for their character arcs.
Tristan and Lucie's chemistry zings. Really zings. I loved their back stories, their reasonings, and even enjoyed the stereotypical elements of "reluctant historical female meets notorious rogue" that usually sets my teeth on edge. Because Lucie's character was so independent and strong, I didn't mind. She held her own and then some.
Also, it must be said that the author does a fantastic job of grounding us in the time period of women fighting for their rights in England. There's a section of notes in the back explaining where things fit into the real historic timeline, and I really appreciated it.
Thank you to Berkley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
This was a Michigan romance, about writers, near the places where I was raised, and about finding yourself and your love from the ashes of a recent and shattering life change. It was GREAT. Strap in for an incredibly biased review. I never read romances set in my area!
Romance itself: ★★★★★
January Andrews is a romance writer who always believed in happily ever after. Or at least, the avoiding-real-life-problems-to-fixate-on-the-happy-ever-after part of the deal. January always pretended her life was great. Her parents were happily married. Her mother successfully beat cancer twice. Her beautiful, spontaneous boyfriend was the perfect aesthetic match. Her New York City apartment fulfilled her image of a writer lifestyle.
All that changes when January's father dies, and it turns out that her life's foundations are a lie. Turns out good old dad had a second house in Michigan, complete with a long-term mistress.
January's life spirals real fast. Her boyfriend can't handle her new "sad self," so he leaves. Without him, January's out of her New York apartment, out of funds, and now on deadline for a contracted romance book deal. And the last thing January wants to do is write a book about love. Love is lie.
So January moves to Michigan to take advantage of the rent-free love nest her father left her. It's awkward, to say the least. It's even more awkward when she realizes that her next door beach house neighbor is her ex-college rival and long-time competitive/attractive muse, Augustus Everett.
Gus and January have always had it in for each other. They were neck in neck in college, and January's always Googled his recent successes to compare her own against them...oh, and also there's the fact that they've both had the hots for each other this whole time.
What could go wrong?
I loved this SO much. Anything I could say about it would just showcase my rampant bias toward these characters, this set-up, the unique clash of enemies to lovers/second chance romance/competition romance/etc, and the fact that I could picture the atmosphere in vivid detail given personal experience.
Read it and weep, folks. This one was awesome!
Sometimes you just need a Regency romance... This was a cute and enchanting read, with more fairy tale elements than steamy scenes.
Miss Sophie Kendall, organizer of the feminist group the Debutante Underground, has a few problems. Her family is one step above financial ruin, her father is a drunk, and her family has given her an ultimatum: she must marry, he must be rich, and it must be quick.
Now, in a deviation from one of the more traditional Regency plots, it's not an arranged setup—the family has already found Sophie a marquess willing to marry her. Too bad Sophie doesn't love him...
Reese, Earl of Warshire, is a man with a serious problem: he can't sleep. We're not talking casual insomnia—he's literally killing himself with a lack of sleep. A former war general, he's haunted by the loss of his men and even more haunted by the loss of his older brother, Edmund, who was supposed to be the Earl. Now stuck in the position with more nightmares than hope, Reese is not doing so well.
One chance encounter with Sophie Kendall radically changes his life.... And begins their sweet, chaste encounters in the nighttime. In a twist that feels more like a fairy tale than a romance, Sophie agrees to spend her Friday nights with Reese—no funny business, for real—and engages in fairy tale-like adventures with him on the moonlit gardens of his estate.
But Sophie's betrothed to another, and Reese knows he has her on borrowed time...
I thought When You Wish Upon a Rogue was a cute and soft installment for the Debutante Diaries series. This was my first introduction, and to be honest I really enjoyed it! My main qualms with the story involved the lack of realism... I know that most Regency romances often deviate from historical accuracy to follow the romance, and normally I'm on board with it, but for this particular plot the facts kept me from fully immersing myself in the story. I thought it was extremely sweet, but not overly plausible.
Intrigued enough to try out the next book in series!
Thank you to St Martin's Press via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Love always wins, even when the obstacles seem insurmountable. Time for a classic Regency romance!
Gone with the Rogue is the second in the First Comes Love series, but like many other romances it can be read as a standalone—I, personally, can vouch for that as I'm a newbie to the series with this book.
Julia Fairbright's husband drowned at sea, leaving her with their young son and under the "protection" of her father-in-law, the duke. The duke is oppressive and controlling, and holds Julia's son over her head in order to make her follow his wishes. It's a black and white situation. Julia wants out, but she's stuck.
Garrett Stockton is the owner of a prominent shipping company and a bit of a scoundrel. He's dashing, he's independent, and he's always at the edge of polite society. So when he sees the beautiful Julia stuck in a tree, he's shocked at the surprisingly warm feelings towards her.
Obviously, these two characters are meant to fall in love—it's just Julia's pesky father-in-law and the societal norms of her status as a widow that stand in their way. Will their love find a way?
Now, please take my review with a grain of salt, because I'm pretty sure this was a case of "it's not you, it's me" reader syndrome. Gone With the Rogue was cute and filled with all of the right things, but for some reason I could not fully engage myself in the story. I found Julia hard to fixate on due to her similarity to other romance heroines, and Garrett too reactionary—he didn't seem to have much personality outside of his fixation on Julia. I feel like I might have enjoyed this story more on a different day, or even as a newer romance reader.
However, this story does deliver on its sweetness, so if sweet and chivalrous is your thing, give this one a try!
Thank you to St Martin's Press via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
So so cute, so so positive, so so what we need right now. A quirky elementary school librarian in Texas meets her match in the new school principal.
Romance: ★★★★ 1/2
What You Wish For comes out on July 14, 2020!
So, let's start off with the fact that I'm extremely biased to love Katherine Center. Her past few books have become all time favorites, and her blend of romance, heartfelt healing, and memorable settings made me oh-so-excited to get to this one.
It did not disappoint!
What You Wish For follows Sam Casey, a librarian with epilepsy who has found a haven for herself in Galveston, Texas. Adorning herself with quirky outfits and surrounded by conversation starters in her whimsical school library, Sam's got it good. Her life is filled with laughter and friends, and her found family includes the school principal and his wife, who have taken Sam in to their home.
Then, her school's beloved principal dies suddenly.
Reeling from the personal and professional loss, Sam can't believe what comes next: the new principal coming to town is none other than Duncan Carpenter, a former teacher from Sam's previous school district. The former teacher that Sam had a hopeless, unrequited obsession with. Yeah. That one.
But this Duncan isn't the same as the goofy teacher Sam used to know. This Duncan is hard, stern, and unwilling to see the charms of Sam's beloved school. He seems obsessed with his vision, and a dark event haunts his past.
If Duncan thinks he can just waltz right in and change things in Galveston, he's got another thing coming...
Ugh. Another winner. I laughed, I teared up a bit, I grinned like a loon. I made the mistake of starting this at 9 p.m. and then went to bed at 1 a.m. because that's how long it took me to finish it. If that's not high enough praise, I don't know what to tell you. It's cute, it's positive, and memorable in its adorable side-quests and flirtations between Duncan and Sam.
My only caveat to this story is that it was missing some of the dramatic tension that other novels by this author have had. There was emotional resonance—and an intense commentary on the state of school life in America today—but the romance itself smoothly transitioned throughout. I guess I was looking for more drama? That's most likely a "me" thing.
Regardless, if you're a fan of How to Walk Away or Things You Save in a Fire, definitely check this one out!
Thank you to St Martin's Press via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
My sister begged me to nab an early copy of Nalini Singh's latest romance featuring her cast of rugby stars in New Zeeland, and I found myself pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this family sports romance.
Love Hard comes out on March 10, 2020!
Now, I know I just said my sister begged me to request this and read it on her behalf, but I was also a bit intrigued myself. Nalini Singh is the author of one of my favorite paranormal romance series, Guild Hunter, as well as her first mystery/thriller, A Madness of Sunshine (which I also read and reviewed! You can check out that review here.). So I knew I was a fan of her romances, and of her writing in general.
But, let's be honest, this series was less intriguing to me—because it's about sports. And I don't really do sports. At all.
So say "I told you so," sister of mine, because I really enjoyed Love Hard.
Jake has no time for fun or acting his age. He's an all-star rugby player in a family of all-star players, and his commitment to his family and to his young daughter, Esme, is the sole focus of his life. After losing his childhood sweetheart, Callie, shortly after the birth of their daughter, Jake has grown up cautious and overprotective.
Juliet's never had a proper family upbringing. Peddled around from family member to family member as a kid left her with scars, and the only saving grace was her best friend, Callie. When Callie passed away, Juliet forgot about Callie's jock boyfriend, Jake, and started making her way in the world—with a few notable bumps in the road, including a nasty ex-husband.
When these two former acquaintances meet at a wedding, what will they do with these brand new sparks?
I thought Love Hard was cute, to the point, and filled with warm fuzzy feelings (and some other, well, feelings too). Jake and Juliet's banter and chemistry was front and center for the entire story. I really enjoyed listening to their banter, and in particular I thought their semi "enemies to lovers" mixed with second chance vibes worked extremely well in this context. I loved how they were both respectful and honest, and miscommunication was NOT used as a plot device.
However, I did struggle quite a bit with the general pacing. Love Hard didn't take place over multiple months or a long time span, but it felt like it anyway given the copious time spent on paragraphs of explanation of the past, backstory, and internal monologue. In fact, at a few points in the story I forgot that I was still in the same scene as dozens of pages later, we were still there! This might not necessarily be a negative for some readers—the descriptions and backstory added quite a bit of character depth—but for my taste in romance, I prefer dialogue-driven scenes with lots of movement in plot.
Overall, another winner from Nalini Singh—and a steamy one too. (Wink wink!)
Thank you to Independent Publishers Group via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Henry VIII and his many wives, but modernized and given a few memorable twists. This was a joy to read as a Tudor-era fan, and it had some quirks.
Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
Wife After Wife is exactly as it's billed on the ticket: Henry VIII is Harry Rose, modern-day media mogul, and this is the story of his many wives.
Now, full disclosure, I love any and all things related to the Tudor time period, include modern retellings. So I loved this for the concept alone. But, separate from the concept, I thought the author's decision to place a Henry VIII-type male character was an interesting one in the context of the #MeToo movement. Was it executed well? That depends.
Harry Rose meets his first wife, Katie—Catherine of Aragon—when he's barely 20 and she's 25. It's the 1980s, and things are going great. Except, that is, for Harry's wandering eye and Katie's fertility issues.
Then Harry meets Merry—Mary Boleyn—when she's married to a closeted gay man and he's still with Katie. Uh oh. A little fun on the side never hurt anyone, right? ...Maybe Katie might disagree.
Ana—Anne Boleyn—is the fashion editor at Harry's company, in charge of running Harry's magazine in the 1990s. So what if she's Merry's sister? Even though Ana's not initially interested in her sister's leftovers, Harry is persistent. And Harry gets what he wants.
And so on...Harry gets what he wants.
The story of Henry VIII and his many wives is relatively popular, so I will stop there at the third famous wife, Anne Boleyn. Now on to some thoughts!
I thought Wife After Wife did a few things incredibly well, including the characterization of all of the women in Harry Rose's life. They were complex, they were products of their decades, and they struggled to maintain a life in the vortex of a supremely powerful and egotistical man.
My problem with Wife After Wife lies with Harry Rose. Harry reads just like Henry VIII to a fault. During the Tudor time period, yes, men could do what they wanted and women just had to take it—they had no agency at all. But in the 1980s? The 1990s? The 2010s? I struggled with Harry's stagnate personality as not only did it not age well with the times, it also became increasingly hard to read his sections. Harry never grew, never changed...he just kept sleeping with all of these women, cheating, lying, and then victim-blaming his wives for problems that were clearly started by him.
Wife After Wife kept this portrayal accurate to the historical reference, but I found it increasingly hard to believe that these women in the 1980s-2010s just let him get away with it, and let him continue to believe his own deluded version of himself. It works with a king, but you'd have to suspend your believe further to believe that it works seamlessly with a more modern couple. I'm not sure if it would have been possible to portray Harry in a satisfying way AND keep him historically referenced, but it did cause a sticking point in my reader enjoyment.
However, other than that this novel was a lot of fun. Let's bring back the Tudors in modern fiction some more—I love it!
Thank you to Berkley for this title in exchange for an honest review.
A marriage on the brink. A last chance effort to improve their communication before it snaps. Tension so thicc. Angst. Fluff. Humor. This romance was HOT, complex, and made me cry from happiness more than once.
Sexy times: oh mama
Character arcs: ★★★★
Oh oh oh, Tessa Bailey, this was so good. Thank you so much for writing this. The romance between these two characters was so perfect, so sweet—ok, also seriously intense and sexy—that now I don't know how to read other contemporary romances.
Maybe I'll just avoid the genre until the next one in this series comes out.
Y'all think I'm kidding, but I'm not--Love Her or Lose Her was absolutely jaw-dropping.
If you weren't a huge fan of Fix Her Up, I'd really encourage you to check this one out anyway. A lot of the things Fix Her Up did that polarized readers (ahem, the pet name being a big one, I believe) are fixed (pun intended) in this one. This isn't about two characters with undiscovered compatibility, and it doesn't feature an age gap, wage gap, or experience gap.
In fact, there are NO gaps--this is about a 10-year established relationship between two high school sweethearts who never, ever thought they'd get to this point: they're on the brink of a separation.
Years of dwindling open communication and misunderstood desires have lead Rosie and Dominic Vega to a marriage of silences. They're both unhappy, but afraid of broaching the subject because they're both worried of the conversation they'll have if they do. Will their marriage crack? Will they break it if they acknowledge the elephant in the room?
Love Her or Lose Her follows Rosie and Dominic in alternating chapters, giving us the full, 360 perspective on their feelings while they decide to pull the plug on the silence and figure out how to fix their marriage, or whether to call it quits.
I could not get enough of this story. Given the tough emotional opening, Love Her or Lose Her was surprisingly funny, uplifting, and happy. Rosie and Dominic are one of my favorite fictional romantic couples—mainly because they're so singular. I don't think I've read a duo with this much personality, and their love for each other made my heart ache in the best way.
A casual warning: This book is SEXY. If you're not a fan of graphic sexual content, I would give this a library try before taking the plunge. I loved it a lot and the plot definitely balances out the romantic/sexual moments, but when we arrive, we ARRIVE.
Thank you so much to Avon via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
What a fun, fast-paced, and surprisingly modern take on a historical romance! It definitely maintained the best guilty pleasures of the old-school Harlequin tropes, but with a modern mindset that I appreciated. If you're not a historical fiction fan, don't let this novel's premise turn you off—this is one good story.
Enjoyment: all the stars
Set in England in the late 1800s, Bringing Down the Duke follows the two perspectives of Annabelle Archer, a 25-year-old Oxford student trying to thrive in London, and the Duke of Montgomery, a 35-year-old aristocrat with close ties to Queen Victoria. (I mention the age gap as it does influence some readers. I found it tasteful in this case, and very necessary for the plot due to the time period.)
Annabelle Archer is thrilled to attend Oxford's new college program for women, and even more thrilled for the scholarship that allows her to leave her small country village for London. There's just one catch: she must be an active member of the suffragist movement—which includes lobbying members of Parliament and inserting herself into the aristocracy's sphere.
Sebastian Montgomery is the most influential duke in the realm, and a notoriously cold man. He has no time for the softer things in life—he's too busy trying to secure his dukedom's future and reclaim the ancestral home that his father gambled away.
Obviously, these two find their paths cross in a definitive way. Bringing Down the Duke brings a little bit of Pride and Prejudice, a little bit of Jane Eyre, a little bit of Harlequin romance, and a LOT of well-written narrative.
My only complaint is that I wish some of the scene-to-scene transitions had been more logical. We went from A to B to D to C, and then in order to follow the romance, we abandoned some of the slow burn fire for immediate attraction...which felt like an abrupt shift.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.