Spotlight Review: MUSICAL GAMES by Evie Alexander  

January 31, 2023

The Kinloch Series, Book 4

From the publisher:

He’s never been kissed, and she’s about to rock his world…

Bubbly actress Sam is on the brink of the bigtime — all she needs is one lucky break. But when she drops everything for the chance to meet Hollywood’s biggest star, she blows it by blurting out a lie.

Now, she’s got ten days to write an album with a man who wants nothing to do with her.

Shy electrician Jamie has never set foot outside Scotland — or his comfort zone. Then beautiful and vivacious Sam gatecrashes his world, and he’s unwillingly swept up in her grand plan. But though Jamie has the voice of an angel and the body of a god, he’s never even kissed a girl… and fame is the last thing on his mind.

As the songs emerge, so do feelings — but Sam’s determination to reach the top is matched only by how fast her lies are catching her up.

When the duo are offered the opportunity of a lifetime, the spotlight illuminates their glaring differences. Can Sam and Jamie face the music, or will fame tear them apart?

Musical Games is a steamy, slow-burn, grumpy/sunshine, laugh-out-loud, dual POV romantic comedy. Featuring an extremely hot virgin hero and a big-hearted heroine with a runaway mouth — there’s no cheating, no cliff-hanger, and you’re guaranteed a happy ever after (HEA).

https://amzn.to/3Hmz8oB

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this series is a lot of fun, and this latest installment was a good read. It’s a contemporary romance set in the Scottish Highlands, one of my favorite settings. What is it about men in kilts? And let me add that each of these books stands alone, so start with whichever one you can get your hands on!

Sam plays a slut on a British soap, but when her best friend, Zoe, invites her to the Highlands to meet a superstar producer, she calls out with a “granny dying” excuse and takes off. Zoe has arranged for her to stay with a good friend, Morag, and her son, the super hot Jamie. Sam is a bit obsessed with him since Zoe sent her a video of him playing guitar and singing a beautiful song – that he wrote. On the other hand, Jamie isn’t thrilled that the gorgeous actress will be staying in the room next door. Jamie is 27 years old, and never even kissed a girl, much less anything else. He falls for Sam the minute he meets her, and she’s completely entranced with him, although no one would ever know.

Jaimie is an electrician by day, and songwriter/singer in his spare time. When he plays his song at the local pub, he is shocked when Sam starts singing and harmonizing along. When the Hollywood producer seems interested, she lies and tells him they have been working on an album together. He asks for a chance to hear it the following week; he is looking for music for the movie he is shooting.

Sam’s gift of mimicry gets Jaimie out of work for a week so they can work on these songs together. Sam is dangerously attracted to him, which could put a crimp in her plans to make it big in Hollywood. Jamie is recalcitrant and quiet, her complete opposite. But somehow they find their way together, but not without a lot of drama, fun, and sex.

This was a terrific read; fast-paced, funny, and just steamy enough to keep things interesting. I highly recommend!

1/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

MUSICAL GAMES by Evie Alexander. Emlin Press (January 22, 2023). ISBN:‎  978-1914473074. 336p.

Kindle

 

 


DO I KNOW YOU? by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka

January 27, 2023

From the publisher:

One of..
Amazon’s Best Romances of January · Buzzfeed’s Romance Books To Look Out For In 2023

When a couple starts to feel like they’re married to a stranger, a flirtatious game of pretend becomes the spark they need to reignite their relationship.

Eliza and Graham are anticipating an anything-but-sexy, weeklong getaway to celebrate their five-year anniversary. Nestled on the Northern California coastline, the resort prides itself on being a destination for those in love and those looking to find it. For Eliza and Graham, it might as well be a vacation with a roommate.

When a well-meaning guest mistakes Eliza and Graham for being single and introduces them at the hotel bar, they don’t correct him. Suddenly, they’re pretending to be perfect strangers and it’s unexpectedly…fun? Eliza and Graham find themselves flirting like it’s their first date, and waiting with butterflies in their stomach for the other to text back. 

Everyone at the retreat can sense the electric chemistry between Eliza and Graham’s alter egos. But when their scintillating game of roleplaying ends, will they still feel the heat?

https://amzn.to/3WKcqwa

This was a very different kind of romance as the main characters are already married. They both love one another, but as they get ready to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary, they both are feeling the distance between them. When they are gifted with a week-long stay at a beautiful resort, they head out for the long drive.

Graham is a corporate lawyer who enjoys his work. Eliza is an audiobook narrator, an actor, who loves her job. The drive to the resort is fairly quiet and not very comfortable as these two have some serious communication problems. Eliza is hoping that this trip will help with that.

When they arrive, they discover they had accidentally been booked into two different rooms. Graham is shocked when Eliza says they’ll keep both of them. He takes the upgraded luxury suite and she takes the basic hotel room, then they decide to meet up in the bar for happy hour.

Graham is confused, he doesn’t understand why Eliza is doing this but goes along with it. He meets another guest at the hotel. David is there for a singles workshop for the week and provides Graham with a wingman and a new friend. The next thing you know, Graham and Eliza are pretending not to know one another, and a roleplaying game begins.

They spend the week getting to know one another all over again, in hopes they will be able to rekindle their romance. It was refreshing to see a couple who truly love one another work on their marriage without any infidelity or other drama entering their lives. Anyone who has been married for any length of time knows that marriages are not static – they have their ups and downs. It’s the commitment to one another and the love for one another that keeps things going here and I enjoyed seeing them find their way back to one another.

The book alternates chapters between Graham and Eliza, so we always know what the other is thinking. This is not a quick read – it is a long, slow process to get them where they need to be for their happily ever after, and I liked that it wasn’t a quick fix. I enjoyed this book written by a husband and wife writing team, which I thought unusual, especially for a romance. This one gets my recommendation.

1/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

DO I KNOW YOU? by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka. Berkley (January 24, 2023). ISBN:‎ 978-0593201954. 352p.

Kindle

Audible

 

 


Spotlight Review: THE DUKE GETS EVEN by Joanna Shupe

January 24, 2023

The Fifth Avenue Rebels, Book 4

From the publisher:

By beloved USA Today bestselling author Joanna Shupe, the fourth installment in the Fifth Avenue Rebels series about a secret affair between a free-spirited heiress and an uptight duke which turns more passionate than either could have imagined. 

A rebellious heiress.

A duke in dire straits.

An anonymous midnight tryst.

To escape the shackles of marriage, Nellie Young purposely ruined her reputation a long time ago. Now she dedicates herself to hedonistic pleasures only, like kissing a handsome stranger in the ocean under the moonlight…

To save his estate, the proper Duke of Lockwood must marry the perfect bride—wealthy, with an unblemished reputation. While in New York he’s the perfect gentleman, and no one knows he’s suppressing his darkest desires. The last thing he needs is another scandal.

Except Nellie sees through Lockwood’s charade, straight to the real man underneath. This uptight duke is far more than he lets on, and she can’t resist him. Their secret affair turns scorching, far more than either expected. And when his beautiful rebel finds an unconventional cause, Lockwood has to decide if he’s willing to sacrifice everything to keep her.

https://amzn.to/3Z2zFEd

I read the first book in this series, The Heiress Hunt, and really enjoyed it. I’m sorry I missed the next two but will go back and read them for sure. This is the fourth and probably the last book in this series.

Nellie Young is the daughter of a railroad magnate who lost her mother way too soon. This is set during the Gilded Age, the boom years of the 1880s in New York City. If you’ve enjoyed the HBO show, The Gilded Age, you will feel right at home here. And here’s a terrific teaser: Teddy Roosevelt makes an appearance.

The Duke of Lockwood is desperate to marry an heiress. His father lost all their money, and all he has left is his home in London and his country home. And a mother who is waiting none too patiently for him to do his duty and marry rich. Unfortunately, the Duke has met and proposed to a few young heiresses in NY, but all those engagements were broken. There are lots more debutants for him to choose from so he isn’t too worried.

Lockwood had a serious illness as a child which left his heart weakened. The doctors prescribe daily exercise, and he chooses to swim. While in New York, he swims in the ocean, usually late at night. The book opens with such a swim, but in this case as he is headed back to shore, he spies a beautiful young woman – could she be a mermaid? As he gets closer she wraps herself around him and he realizes that she is both naked and not a mermaid. Nellie is completely enchanting, at least until she realizes that he is not the man she thought she would be meeting during her midnight swim.

Lockwood is immediately smitten, but Nellie knows who he is and that she is not the demure, scandal-free girl for him. She has been flouting the rules of society since her debut and is quite up front about it. Nonetheless, they keep running into each other and soon enough realize they have this incredible chemistry, so hot it consumes them both.

Nellie is bound and determined to help women learn about their bodies, reproduction, and birth control despite the fact that it is illegal for women to learn such things. It was an interesting parallel to what has been going on in this country since Roe was overturned.

There are many obstacles to overcome before Nellie and the Duke find their happy ending, and fun for us, they maneuver down a scorching hot road to get there. If you enjoy steamy historical romances, you won’t want to miss this one. I loved it.

1/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE DUKE GETS EVEN by Joanna Shupe. Avon (January 24, 2023). ISBN:‎  978-0063045071. 384p.

Kindle

Audible

 

 


HOCKEY HOTTIES SERIES (Part 2) by Piper Rayne

January 20, 2023

I read most of this series last year, and I finally got the last three books in the series that I hadn’t read – thank you, public library! I really loved this series. There is a lot of humor and some steamy sex. The characters all overlap in these books as they are all members of the fictional Florida Fury hockey team, but they can also be read as standalones. I didn’t read them in order, and I still enjoyed every book. If you like hot sports romances, this is a terrific series. I was able to find almost all the books at my library – frankly, if I had a little more patience, I would have found them all!

The series in order:

1. Countdown to a Kiss

Three professional hockey players from the Florida Fury attend a New Year’s Eve party at the team owner’s mansion and spend time with three very different women. As the countdown to midnight begins, each of them is hoping to start the new year off right with a kiss. But if that happens, does it mean they’re destined to see these women again? A sneak peek into Piper Rayne’s upcoming series, Hockey Hotties!
 


2. My Lucky #13

Lucky.

The one adjective used to describe my entire hockey career. I prefer to call it hard work, at least I did until my game went to complete crap. I haven’t scored in eight games and the team owner is talking about trading me.

I’ve never believed in superstitions. Never needed one. I suppose I was “lucky” in that way. But now the best way to refer to me is desperate. I’d wear the same socks for an entire year just to be the high-scoring center I used to be.

Imagine my surprise when after spending New Year’s Eve with a woman, I score a hat trick in the next game—that’s three goals in one game for you non-hockey lovers. Now, I have to track her down and bribe her to do it again before every game. Get your mind out of the gutter, I’m not talking about it.

I find her and when I get to know her better, I end up spending more time thinking about her than my game, but she’s made it clear she wants no part of me. She’s going to learn that I didn’t become a professional hockey player without having to fight for what I want.


3. The Trouble with #9

Trouble.

One word that comes to mind when someone talks about me. I like to think of it as protection, watching out for the ones I love. But now I’m spending more time in the penalty box than on the ice and the team owner isn’t happy.

Finding myself across the room from the hot therapist I kissed on New Year’s Eve only makes me push my problems down further. I want couch time with her but not the kind she’s used to.

I decide to lie to her just to finish off my therapy so I can do what I really want—date her—even if she says she doesn’t date hockey players. Just when my therapy sessions are up and I’ve made some headway with Paisley, it’s my parents who throw another wrench in my plans.

If I abide by my parent’s wishes to marry the one they’ve chosen, I’ll lose Paisley forever. But if I go against my parents, I’m failing my deceased best friend all over again.


3.5. Tropical Hat Trick

It’s Ford and Lena’s destination wedding and every professional hockey player joining them for the big day are ready to let loose. But between vacation hook-ups, one player falling into bed with the boss and a surprise guest at the resort, there’s more action—and complications—than any of them could have predicted.

Note to Readers: This is a companion piece to the Hockey Hotties series but does not have to be read to enjoy any of the books in that series.


4. Sneaking around with #34

I have a reputation for being tight-lipped. You learn quick when you become a professional hockey player to be guarded with the media, so I’ve worked hard to cover up the mistakes of my youth.

But when I’m traded to the Florida Fury, where my ex–best friend is the starting right wing, I’m forced to confront my past. Ford and I have a lot of history, especially when it comes to his little sister, Imogen.

My heart still lurches in my chest when I see her.
My hands want to reach out and touch her.
My mouth wants to keep apologizing.

She’s the only woman who ever made me want more. But she’s also the one who fell victim to my most regrettable decision.

I’m not a believer in fate, but I must be back in her world for a reason. I’ve fought for everything I’ve gotten and I’m not backing down from what I know will be the best thing in my life.


5. Second Shot with #76

My mom always said you don’t get a second shot at making a first impression. I’ve remembered that my entire career. Especially since I’m one of the few black men who play professional hockey.

I’m calculated and respectful in the way I speak to my coaches, the owners, and the media. I’ve never taken a risk… until her.

I could blame it on the fact that for once I pushed away the pressure of my career for the ocean waves, the sand, and good times with my new teammates. But those are excuses because the minute I saw her at the airport, something lit up inside me and the best week of my life was spent with her in my bed.

After our week in paradise, we said goodbye, exchanged phone numbers and both assumed that unless one of us was flying through the other’s city on the opposite side of the country, our vacation fling was over.

Then one night after practice I see her. She’s here. In my city. Telling me she moved here for a job. If that’s not fate tell me what is.

I’ve never wanted a second shot more than I do this time, but she’s determined to leave what we were on the island we left behind.


6. Offside with #55

The last thing any professional hockey player wants is to be the old man in the game. The guy who doesn’t know when it’s time to retire. Still, I can’t bear the thought of leaving the game.

This past year I’ve reflected on all my regrets, and I told myself that once I retire it’ll be the time to settle down and start a family. But this is where it gets tricky.

I think I’ve found her—my Mrs. Although she’ll deny our connection to anyone who asks. We’ve been sleeping together casually and since I’m still playing hockey, I’ve let her get what she wants—me—whenever she wants.

After being told my career as a player is over, the owner of Florida Fury grants me a shot to stay in the game. A coaching position I didn’t know I wanted until it was offered. The catch? He’s also passing the family business down to his daughter.

Who’s his daughter?

The woman who’s been in and out of my bed for the past year. Which means the woman I intend to make my wife is now my new boss.



Spotlight Review: EXES AND O’S by Amy Lea

January 17, 2023

The Influencer Series, Book 2

From the publisher:

A romance novel-obsessed social media influencer revisits her exes on her hunt for true love in this romantic comedy from the author of Set On You.

Romance book connoisseur Tara Chen has had her heart broken ten times by ten different men—all of whom dumped her because of her “stage-five clinger” tendencies. Nevertheless, Tara is determined to find The One. The only problem? Classic meet-cutes are dead, thanks to modern dating apps. So Tara decides to revisit her exes in hopes of securing her very own trope-worthy second-chance romance.

Boston firefighter Trevor Metcalfe will be the first to rush into a burning building but the last to rush into a relationship. Love just isn’t his thing. When his new roommate Tara enlists him to help her reconnect with her exes, he reluctantly agrees. But Tara’s journey is leading him to discover his own new chapter.

The more time they spend together, the more Tara realizes Trevor seems to be the only one who appreciates her authentic, dramatic self. To claim their happily ever after, can Tara and Trevor read between the lines of their growing connection?

One of Amazon’s Best Romances of January · A January LibraryReads Pick · One of Buzzfeed’s Romance Books To Look Out For In 2023

“The resulting romance is as sensitive and swoony as it is self-aware, playfully engaging popular romance tropes. This is a winner.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Lea’s follow-up to Set on You (2022) is a hilarious, relatable exploration of life and love, filled to brimming with soft moments, small gestures, and a clear love of the romance genre itself…A comically delightful romance about how the best love stories are found where you least expect them.”—Kirkus (starred review)

https://amzn.to/3QN9OfL

This was my first book from this author, but I will be looking for her first book, Set on You for sure. This one reads fine as a standalone; I didn’t realize it was even part of a series. What this book really is is an homage to the romance genre, and I loved that!

Tara is a romance book YouTube/TikTok influencer. She loves all kinds of romance, and even though her romances haven’t worked out, she is eternally positive that the right “one” is out there, just waiting for her. When her roommate gets engaged, she ends up swapping apartments with the fiance – he moves in, and she moves into his old apartment with his old roommate.

This is one the funniest meet-cutes ever! Tara is moving in while Trevor, her new roommate, is at work – he’s a firefighter and they work opposite shifts. Or so she thinks. Instead, she opens the door to find him banging someone on the kitchen counter. She ends up hiding in the bathroom and once he gets rid of the girl, they talk through the door until she feels like she can comfortably come out. Turns out that Trevor is a bit of a man whore with no interest whatsoever in any kind of relationship. He’s all about the one night stand – something that Tara has never had. As she points out, she doesn’t sleep with a man unless she knows his middle name.

Tara and Trevor are firmly in the friend zone, despite how attracted to him that she is. Tara is still recovering from a bad breakup; she was engaged to a doctor in the hospital where she is a nurse, but he dumps her shortly before the wedding. It’s taken her months to get over it, especially because there is no avoiding him. And of course, he’s already seeing someone else.

One of Tara’s favorite romance tropes is the second chance romance. In fact, her grandmother just got married to her childhood sweetheart, giving Tara the idea that maybe she should revisit her exes and see if anything can be rekindled. Trevor becomes her confidant and wingman, and he stops bringing random women home. They hang out a lot, watch TV and share meals and confidences. She learns about his background and why he is so gun shy of any kind of relationship. He bails her out of one bad date after another, and her feelings for him continue to grow. When he finally admits that he has feelings for her, too, they both find their happy ever after.

This was a really fun, fast, unputdownable and thoroughly enjoyable read. There are a lot of laughs, a bit of heat, and the characters truly come to life on the page. If you love rom-coms, don’t miss this one!

1/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

EXES AND O’S by Amy Lea. Berkley (January 10, 2023). ISBN:‎ 978-0593336595. 400p.

Kindle

Audible

 

 


Last Ride, Texas Series by Delores Fossen

January 13, 2023


SPRING AT SADDLE RUN (Book 1)

Book 1

The truth about a small-town scandal is about to unleash one wildly unexpected romance…

Single dad Joe McCann is focused on running his ranch and raising his daughter. He has no desire to help Millie unearth his late wife’s past, especially if it means revealing painful secrets. Until his daughter teams up with Millie, and the widower cowboy finds himself agreeing to help them with their project—and opening the door to a deep attraction he thought he’d never find again. 

Millie Parkman Dayton is still healing from the fatal car accident that claimed her husband and turned her into the focus of local gossip. But when she’s thrown together with the attractive rancher who shares in her tragic past, new rumors begin to fly in Last Ride, Texas.

SPRING AT SADDLE RUN by Delores Fossen. HQN; Original edition (May 25, 2021). ISBN:‎ 978-1335549570. 352p

https://amzn.to/3X4U7mF

CHRISTMAS AT COLTS CREEK (Book 2)

Book 2

An unexpected inheritance rekindles a red-hot romance just in time for Christmas…

Janessa Parkman spent one long-ago summer in Last Ride, Texas, trying to bond with her estranged father, Abe. Turns out that was plenty of time to fall hard—and crash badly—for Brody Harrell, who managed Abe’s ranch. Everyone believed Brody would inherit Colts Creek one day, but now, fifteen years on, Abe’s will reveals the shocking truth—Janessa gets everything, and she must agree to stay in town for three months…through Christmas.

Brody’s attraction to Janessa burns hotter than ever. Though he refuses Janessa’s offer to give him the ranch, refusing her is impossible. Misunderstanding drove them apart once before, and secrets and betrayals run through both families. But what starts as a temporary Christmas fling might turn into a love strong enough to last every holiday season yet to come.

CHRISTMAS AT COLTS CREEK by Delores Fossen. HQN; Original edition (October 26, 2021). ISBN:‎ 978-1335454577. 336p

https://amzn.to/3kchewJ


SUMMER AT STALLION RIDGE (Book 3)

Book 3

Can two old friends rekindle the spark that brought them together when their pasts are littered with land mines?

The chance to be near his young son is the only thing that could entice former SWAT commander Matt Corbin back to his hometown. Matt has only a few happy memories of his tough childhood in Last Ride, Texas, and most of them involve Emory Parkman. Once his teenage crush, she’s now living in a cottage on his late grandfather’s ranch, which seems like a good omen…until Matt learns Emory is looking into his family’s history, a subject he’d prefer remained closed.

Emory’s wedding-gown designs are said to bring luck—to everyone but her. Though twice bitten by romance that went sour, she’s tempted to take a chance on the rancher next door. Emory and Matt’s long-ago attempts at love never got a fair chance, but all these years later, their attraction is stronger than ever. Maybe by unearthing some of his ancestors’ long-buried secrets, she can help him finally cast off the past’s shadows and prove to Matt that the third time’s the charm.

SUMMER AT STALLION RIDGE by Delores Fossen. Entangled: Amara (December 27, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-1649370952. 448p

https://amzn.to/3ZstIka


This series was my first time reading Delores Fossen. According to Amazon she has written 239 books, and no, that’s not a typo. I think they may be counting each type of publication as a book – so the paperback, the audiobook, and the Kindle version would count as three books. Her author description says she’s sold over 140 novels, so either way, that’s a lot of books! It looks like she wrote a lot of those short Harlequin romances, and I don’t generally read those. I’m just glad I found her now – better late than never!

I actually read this series in order, but there is another book that came out in November that I haven’t found yet; Mornings at River’s End Ranch is book 4 of the Last Ride, Texas series and my library doesn’t have it. Yet. I requested they purchase it though, so hopefully, I’ll get it soon. Then in March, A Texas Kind of Cowboy, book 5, comes out. I already got the review copy, but I’m waiting to read it until I get book 4. There are a few more books coming out in 2023 so even more to look forward to! I do love a good Western/Cowboy/Rancher romance, and this series is terrific. There is a lot of drama with these well-developed characters, so I couldn’t help but care about them.

Even though I read these in order, they can all stand alone pretty much. There is a bit of overlap, it is a series after all, but nothing that can’t be understood. I have read other series out of order, and often you just know there are missing pieces of the story, but happily, that is not the case here.

These books are on the sweet side of romance with a lot of angst until the happy ending, but there is also a bit of heat. If you want a bit of sex rather than the complete lack of it in inspirational type romances, but don’t want tons of graphic sex, these books may be perfect for you. I read all across the heat index, but sometimes when it is one sex scene after another, or extremely graphic sex scenes, I just end up feeling like a voyeur, and I don’t enjoy those books as much. I guess I like a modicum of restraint, but not too much! I think Fossen finds a happy medium, at least in this series.

I am really looking forward to the next book, and I highly recommend this series.

1/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

 

 


Spotlight Review: HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS AND UNFAIRLY CUTE by Talia Hibbert

January 10, 2023

From the publisher:

From the New York Times bestselling author of the Brown Sisters trilogy, comes a laugh-out-loud story about a quirky content creator and a clean-cut athlete testing their abilities to survive the great outdoors—and each other.

Bradley Graeme is pretty much perfect. He’s a star football player, manages his OCD well (enough), and comes out on top in all his classes . . . except the ones he shares with his ex-best friend, Celine.

Celine Bangura is conspiracy-theory-obsessed. Social media followers eat up her takes on everything from UFOs to holiday overconsumption—yet, she’s still not cool enough for the popular kids’ table. Which is why Brad abandoned her for the in-crowd years ago. (At least, that’s how Celine sees it.)

These days, there’s nothing between them other than petty insults and academic rivalry. So when Celine signs up for a survival course in the woods, she’s surprised to find Brad right beside her.

Forced to work as a team for the chance to win a grand prize, these two teens must trudge through not just mud and dirt but their messy past. And as this adventure brings them closer together, they begin to remember the good bits of their history. But has too much time passed . . . or just enough to spark a whole new kind of relationship?

 “A zippy rom-com with strong characterization, bursting with Gen Z–approved verbal sparring and stolen kisses.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A great addition to any library’s YA shelves, especially where there’s a gap in the collection for love stories featuring Black teens.”—David Roberts, School Library Journal

https://amzn.to/3ZepM6q

I loved all of Hibbert’s books, so when this book start showing up on all the “2023 romances not to be missed” lists, I was all in. This book is firmly set in young adult (YA) territory, not something I read very often. I haven’t been a YA for more years than I care to think about! But my love for this author won out, and I’m very glad I read it.

Celine and Brad are our main protagonists in this friends-to-enemies-to-lovers romance. And they happen to be Black, and both have some mental health issues. Brad has been struggling with OCD but through therapy has learned how to manage it. For the most part. Celine has some self-esteem issues, yet comes across as really full of herself, the know-it-all of the school. Luckily, her grades reflect that, but deep inside she knows she’s different, and not necessarily in a good way.

Their mothers are best friends, and Celine and Brad were as well until they got to high school. Football (soccer) star Brad becomes one of the most popular kids, and Celine feels like he is leaving her behind. They are either ignoring one another or sniping at one another, there is no in-between with them. Until they both apply for this very prestigious scholarship program.

Brad wants the scholarship because that will give him the freedom to live on his own, without having to deal with a roommate. His OCD is best managed when he doesn’t have to deal with other people’s messes. Celine wants the scholarship because one of the sponsors is the law firm where the father who abandoned her works, and she wants to rub his face in her success.

This scholarship competition involves two camping trips where all the students will be constantly observed and graded on their teamwork and leadership skills. The top three scores win full rides to the college of their choice. And just having gone through the process – it is limited to only 20 participants – can give these students a formidable leg up, both in their college choices and careers that lie ahead. But both Celine and Brad know that sniping at each other is going to cause them both to lose, so a truce is declared. As they work together, they both start remembering why they were such good friends and eventually, their fake friendship becomes real again. And then it becomes something more.

I am no judge as to what teens or 20-somethings like in a book, so all I can say is that I loved it. The story was completely absorbing, and I couldn’t help but care about Celine and Brad. I wanted them to find their happy ending, even though they were so young and still had their whole lives ahead of them. It all rang true to me, especially the way they both struggled to find the courage to say “I love you.” I met my husband when I was 17, and he was 19, and here we are 40+ years later, so I believe that you can find your person at any age if you’re lucky!

1/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS AND UNFAIRLY CUTE by Talia Hibbert. Joy Revolution (January 3, 2023). ISBN:‎ 978-0593482353. 336p.

Kindle

Audible

Paperback

 

 


NEVER CROSS A HIGHLANDER by Lisa Rayne

January 6, 2023

The Shadow Lairds

From the publisher:

Ailsa Connery has waited three long years to finally escape her enslavement at Stirling Castle and reunite with her clan. But her carefully laid plans are completely destroyed by the arrival of the infamous Highland warrior known as Dubh Mahoun, the Black Devil…who has plans of his own.

Kallum MacNeill’s fearsome reputation has long allowed him to keep hidden his secret double life of freeing enslaved captives across the land. It’s only when he kidnaps a servant lass―quite by accident―that he finds himself facing a wee predicament. He must accompany the lass home or risk her exposing his true identity. It’d be easy enough…if the feisty hellion didn’t fight him at every turn.

As they make their way to the Highlands, the perils the two must face are surpassed only by their constant sparring. Soon, their heated sniping sparks heat of a totally different kind. The kind that ignites a hunger that could consume them both. Yet the difficult journey is no match for the dangerous secrets they’re about to uncover.

https://amzn.to/3GzAXPR

This author is new to me and I am so glad I found her! This was a historical Scottish romance with a twist – the main characters are people of color. I haven’t come across this, or talk of slavery, in a Highlands romance before and I really liked it.

Ailsa is a light skinned Black woman who was visiting the King with her clan. But as they were leaving, she was captured by the King’s guard and forced into servitude. No one from her clan ever came looking for her and no one in the King’s court would listen to her. She was a free woman of color, but no longer. All the clans were returning for a celebration, and Ailsa saw this as her opportunity to escape back to her clan.

Kallum is a fierce warrior and isn’t too thrilled to be going to this fete, but he needs to compete for his clan. He is a free Black man, and has been accepted as a brother to the laird’s son, soon to inherit the title. What they don’t know is that Kallum is also known as the Shepherd, because he rescues slaves and shepherds them to freedom. No one knows his identity which keeps him safe.

As he is preparing to leave with several slaves in tow, he realizes the princess’s servant isn’t among them, so he goes searching for her. To his surprise, she doesn’t want to go with him, but he takes her anyway. As they journey towards freedom, she is forced to explain why she doesn’t want to go. Kallum is concerned because it seems to him something is amiss in that her clan never came back for her. As they travel together, they fall in love but there are some serious obstacles in their way, not the least of which is the bounty on her head.

The struggle proves worthwhile, however, and Kallum and Ailsa eventually find their happy ending. This was an intriguing story, and a one night read for me. I hope to find more books in this series.

12/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

NEVER CROSS A HIGHLANDER by Lisa Rayne. Entangled: Amara (December 27, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-1649370952. 448p.

Kindle

Audible

 

 


Spotlight Review: CINDERELLA AND THE DUKE by Lydia Drake

January 3, 2023

From the publisher:

Miss Julia Beaumont has exactly one night to find herself a husband…

The Weatherford Ball is the last chance Julia Beaumont has to escape the clutches of her horrid stepmother. Any potential husband will do―rich, poor, even a reasonably well-groomed walrus. But all of Julia’s matrimonial chances are completely obliterated…thanks to the actions of an infuriating and utterly rakish duke.

Gregory Carter, Duke of Ashworth, would never risk his cherished bachelorhood by flirting with marriage-starved debutantes. But one look at the luscious and refreshingly clever Julia, and he simply can’t resist a stolen kiss―scandal be damned. Then just as things start getting deliciously interesting, the lady flees…leaving only a slipper behind.

And it must have been one dandy of a kiss. Because now Julia has proposed to him. After all, the lady needs a husband, and this roguish duke will certainly do. It’s simply a matter of making him the perfect scandalous offer…

https://amzn.to/3Z2zFEd

Julia is the Cinderella in this story. She lost her mother as a young child, her father remarried, hoping to find a good mother for Julia. But when her father dies, her stepmother’s true colors come out and she decides to keep Julia at home as her personal servant. She isn’t locked in the basement, but she may as well be. She isn’t allowed to participate in the marriage mart that the ton favors. That is until her young stepsister makes her debut.

When Julia’s stepmother falls ill, it is up to Julia to chaperone her stepsister at the ball of the season. Julia has no ballgowns, or mice or even a fairy godmother to help make her one. But she does have some gowns of her mother’s, and the ability to sew and make the necessary repairs and alterations, which she does. While at the ball she witnesses the notorious rake, the Duke of Ashworth, called out to fight yet another duel. She gets an idea to rescue him and it works. The duke has determined never to marry as he favors cavorting with the unhappily married women of the ton. But these duels are getting tiresome, so when Julia offers him a way out, he goes for it.

Julia’s idea is for them to marry in name only. That will get all the husbands off his back, and will let Julia escape her stepmother and the life she abhors. The only problem is their chemistry is off the charts. They decide to consummate the marriage, for Julia’s protection, then just live their own lives. Best laid plans go awry when they really fall for each other, but there are roadblocks, always, until they find their happily ever after.

This was a really fun read and a good way to kick off the new year! The characters were charming and the story more or less believable, with some steamy scenes to keep things interesting. I can only hope that this is the start of a series.

1/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

CINDERELLA AND THE DUKE by Lydia Drake. Entangled: Amara (December 27, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-1649373144. 352p.

Kindle

Audible

 

 


Spotlight Review: HEARTBREAKER by Sarah MacLean 

December 20, 2022

Hell’s Belles. Book 2

From the publisher:

New York Times bestselling author Sarah MacLean follows her highly acclaimed Bombshell with Heartbreaker, featuring a fierce, fearless heroine on a mission to steal a duke’s secrets…and his heart. 

A Tempting Thief

Raised among London’s most notorious criminals, a twist of fate landed Adelaide Frampton in the bright ballrooms of Mayfair, where she masquerades as a quiet wallflower—so plain and unassuming that no one realizes she’s the Matchbreaker…using her superior skills as a thief to help unwilling brides avoid the altar, all while hiding her own scandalous past.

A Powerful Duke

Henry Carrington, Duke of Clayborn, has spent a lifetime living in perfection and has no time for the scandals that arise every time Adelaide ends another groom. His own reputation is impeccable—and the last thing he needs is a frustrating, fascinating woman discovering the truth of his past, or the secrets he holds close. 

A Perfect Match

When the two find themselves on a breakneck journey across Britain to stop a wedding, the duke has no choice but to follow her across Britain on a trip filled with bad weather, bad luck, and a surprising lack of beds. Adelaide soon realizes that this perfect duke kisses like a proper scoundrel, and is turning out to be a thief in his own right…one who won’t stop until he’s stolen her well-guarded heart.

https://amzn.to/3HPI1sA

MacLean turns the Victorian romance genre on its head with this feminist spin and I’m into it! Both of these books stand alone, and I can say this because I read the first book, Bombshell, just over a year ago and honestly didn’t remember many details, yet I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It didn’t feel like I was missing a thing.

The Hell’s Belles are a group of women with a mission to save their peers from disasterous marriages and other of life’s challenges. This book centers around Adelaide, the “Matchbreaker.” She herself was saved from a marriage in which her father was basically selling her to a man she had no interest in marrying, a not uncommon practice in Victorian England. Matches were made, especially among the upper class (the ton) because of financial need, status, or tying together families to amass more power. Not so lovely reasons to get married!

Adelaide is not of the upper class. In fact, her father runs one of the most notorious gangs in London, and she was raised to be a thief and a pickpocket, or “nipper,” and she is one of the best. Unfortunately, she learned the hard way and was imprisoned the first time when she was only 8 years old. She has changed her name and is now under the protection of the Duchess, one of the Belles whose money and influence gives them great latitude to help other women. Unfortunately, this time it is Adelaide who needs the help.

A young woman witnessed her father, a member of the aristocracy, murder a fellow aristocrat. Now he wants her dead. Yes, you read that right. Women were so dispensable in jolly old England! Instead, she elopes with the younger brother of the Duke of Carrington.

The Duke is a confirmed bachelor, and he is happy his brother found someone to love. He fully supports the marriage, but the girl’s father has hired some ruffians to find and kill them both. Adelaide to the rescue, only she has help in the Duke. While their relationship is somewhat adversarial – she steals something he greatly values and the race is on. As they cross England to try and reach the Duke’s brother before the happy couple is killed, Adelaide and the Duke fall in love. He has secrets that preclude him from marrying, and she has major self-esteem issues. But no worries – a happy ending is in store.

This was a fun read and I enjoyed these characters and the story. It was fast-paced and had some humor, along with some heat! If you enjoyed the first book in the series, I think this one was a bit better. If you haven’t read the first one, you can still read this one and it won’t feel like you’re walking into the middle of something. MacLean is a smart writer and does a really good job with series. This book is on many of the best books of the year lists so give it a try!

12/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

HEARTBREAKER by Sarah MacLean. Avon (August 23, 2022). ISBN:‎ 978-0063243248. 352p.

Kindle

Audible