Friday, April 12, 2024

Hero Next Door by Lara Swann

Ex-marine. Ex-wife. Ex-hausted.


I left my brothers in the marines to start a family. I left my ex-wife when that family drove her to drink and drugs. Now all I have left is my son - and he's all I care about.


I can't afford to make another mistake. And the girl who moved in next door? Mistake written all over her. She's got the sweetest smile, the hottest damn curves, and behind it all...a haunted look. I can't take my damn eyes off her.


My powerful body and coarse attitude make her nervous - and as she tries to start a new life away from her abusive ex, she has her own reasons to stay away. But we can't help it. We're f--king drawn to each other. And when she tells me how much she wants a baby...I make every mistake in the book. Because I want a family again.


I want her. My son. And a baby. And when her past comes calling...I'll fight to hell and back to keep it.

Publisher: Tantor Audio | Narrators: John Lane, Veronica Worthington | Length: 8h 18 m | Genre: Contemporary Romance |  Source: Audible Plus  | Rating: 3

I was scrolling the Audible Plus catalogue looking for a light, contemporary romance to listen to while I was doing a spot of decluttering and came across Lara Swan. She’s been on my authors to check out list for a minute so I decided to give Hero Next Door a go.

Here’s what’s going on. When Mack and his adorable son help Naomi move a hutch into her new house, she can’t help but to be a little smitten. While they’re both hesitant to start something due to their own personal baggage and responsibilities, there’s no denying the attraction and chemistry between Naomi and Mack and soon they find themselves acting on their feelings. They feel that this could be the start of something real, if their past relationships don’t get in the way.

This was quick, cute, and a little spicy. It was the perfect book that I could listen to and enjoy while focusing on a different task.

Mack and Naomi were great. She’s running from an abusive ex so she’s a bit cautious and hesitant. Mack ended his military career at the insistence of his wife so they could start a family and she ended up walking away from their family when their son was born. They’re both a little damaged and not sure if they want to risk a relationship. I really enjoyed watching as they took the time to build their trust in each other and build a foundation for their relationship. They also allowed each other to heal and that took character growth on both of their parts.

I’m such a sucker for a single daddy romance and found the relationship between Mack and Tyler to be adorable but I don’t feel as though the book as whole lived up to its full potential. It was rushed in spots and I feel as though the internal dialogue gobble up the majority of the story. While I don’t feel as though it was lacking, I still would have liked a bit more communication between the characters.

As this was my first introduction to Lara Swann’s writing, I think it went well. I liked her writing style and enjoyed the British terminology that was sprinkled throughout. I do think I’ll check out more from this author.

Both narrators were new-to-me and I enjoyed their narration of the story.

Overall, this was a nice romance and a perfect break from the meatier stories I’ve been reading. 

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Foxglove by Adalyn Grace

The captivating sequel to the Gothic-infused Belladonna, in which Signa and Death face a supernatural foe determined to tear them apart.


A duke has been murdered. The lord of Thorn Grove has been framed. And Fate, the elusive brother of Death, has taken up residence in a sumptuous estate nearby. He's hellbent on revenge after Death took the life of the woman he loved many years ago...and now he's determined to have Signa for himself, no matter the cost.


Signa and her cousin Blythe are certain that Fate can save Elijah Hawthorne from prison if they will entertain his presence. But the more time the girls spend with Fate, the more frightening their reality becomes as Signa exhibits dramatic new powers that link her to Fate's past. With mysteries and danger around every corner, the cousins must decide if they can trust one another as they navigate their futures in high society, unravel the murders that haunt their family, and play Fate's unexpected games—all with their destinies hanging in the balance.


Dangerous, suspenseful, and seductive, this sequel to Signa and Death's story is as utterly romantic as it is perfectly deadly.

Series: Belladonna #2 | Publisher: Little, Brown |  Genre: Romantasy | Source: Purchased | Rating: 4.5 

A Duke has been falsely accused of murder and Fate has shown up with a few party games. Foxglove was loaded. There was so much going on and it all came together beautifully.

Here’s what’s going on. When Elijah Hawthorne, Signa’s cousin and Blythe’s father, is wrongly accused of murder and arrested on the spot, it’s up to Signa and her cousin to clear his name. Although the arrival of Fate, Death’s disgruntled brother, makes things more complicated. He is responsible for their destinies, after all, and while he has the power to change things, he’s not about to let Signa off the hook, especially since she reminds him of someone he once knew. Even though she’s in love with Death, there’s something about her newly discovered powers that link her to Fate. Will she play Fate’s game to save Elijah or will her love for Death win out over her allegiance to family.

This one picks up right where Belladonna leaves off (read my review HERE) and it doesn’t stop until the very end. I have to say, this one was very easy to get sucked into and I didn’t realize I had read the majority of the book in one sitting.

Signa’s finally out in society and although she still figuring out who she is power-wise, she’s starting to realize she doesn’t need to conform to the societal norms. She is freer in her actions, which allows her to be more of who she was meant to be. She’s also just unlocked these strange new powers that she’s not sure about and she’s afraid that they will draw her away from Death. Fate’s arrival has really thrown a spanner in the works and she’s not really sure how to proceed because she is madly in love with Death.

Blythe has also entered the picture more as a main character and, to be honest, I wasn’t a massive fan of her. I struggled with her in the first book but put it down to her youth and the fact she was ill. Sadly, I still found her extremely annoying in this book. Several times, I found myself questioning her actions and hoping that Signa would put her in her place. She does have some character growth by the time the book ends.

Fate’s a new edition and, my goodness, he made things interesting. We get Fate’s backstory, which surprised me seeing as there was nothing on Death in the first book, and while he made some questionable choices, I found myself feeling empathy for him. Thanks to Fate’s arrival, we also get a more in-depth view of Death in this book, which I appreciated. Fate and Death’s long-standing feud was so complex they could have had their own thrilling novella. There’s more than just sibling rivalry going on and more than just competing for Signa. I really enjoyed how fleshed out these two brother become.

Unlike the first book, the romance is woven into the plot a bit more tightly. Signa and Death are an established couple, regardless of who can see them together. I really enjoyed Signa and Death together and loved how protective he was of her. Fate is wanting to claim Signa and Blythe (as well as a few secondary characters) is husband hunting. I feel like there was more focus on the development of the relationships and it helped strengthen the plot.

This was still a mystery but rather than being mystery-driven, the mystery was used to enhance the characters and reveal more about them. Honestly, I think the mystery was weak in this one and, by the end, I was so wrapped up in Fate, Signa, and Death that I didn’t really care about the mystery and I didn’t mind. The mystery, with the arrest of Elijah started off strong but the direction it ended was lackluster. I feel like there were several directions it could have gone and she picked the wrong one.

There’s been a series arc focusing on the mystery regarding the death of Signa’s parents and while it was touched upon a little more in this book, I’m hoping that there’s more of a conclusion in the next book rather than the vagueness that was in this book.

I was a little hesitant when I discovered Wisteria (book 3) was going to feature Blythe as the main character as she wasn’t my favorite. However, the events that occurred in the last part of Foxglove have me rather intrigued to see how things are going to playout so I immediately preordered Wisteria.

While this is labeled ‘fantasy’, I feel that this falls more into the category of mythology. We’ve also moved away from the Gothic atmosphere that was in the first book and entered into a Regency mystery feel.

Overall, while this book had some wobbles, mainly with the mystery, it was still a solid read and I hope to see more of Death and Signa in future books. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Belladonna by Adalyn Grace

Orphaned as a baby, nineteen-year-old Signa has been raised by a string of guardians, each one more interested in her wealth than her well-being—and each has met an untimely end. Her remaining relatives are the elusive Hawthornes, an eccentric family living at Thorn Grove, an estate both glittering and gloomy. Its patriarch mourns his late wife through wild parties, while his son grapples for control of the family’s waning reputation, and his daughter suffers from a mysterious illness. But when their mother’s restless spirit appears claiming she was poisoned, Signa realizes that the family she depends on could be in grave danger and enlists the help of a surly stable boy to hunt down the killer.


However, Signa’s best chance of uncovering the murderer is an alliance with Death himself, a fascinating, dangerous shadow who has never been far from her side. Though he’s made her life a living hell, Death shows Signa that their growing connection may be more powerful—and more irresistible—than she ever dared imagine.


Series: Belladonna #1 | Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company | Genre: Historical Mystery, Fantasy | Source: Purchased | Rating: 4

I’ll admit it, I was swayed by the gorgeous cover and the name of the book. I walked by this book several times before I finally picked this one (and the second) up. They sat in my TBR pile for a minute while I was deciding if I actually wanted to read them but, in the end, the synopsis intrigued me. And while I’m generally not one for this genre, I have to say, I was not disappointed.

Here’s what’s going on: As an infant, Signa survived the murder of her parents and has since been through a string of guardians, each meeting an untimely death. Now living with her last remaining relatives, the Hawthornes, Signa finds herself in the middle of a mystery but to hunt down the killer, she’s going to need help. She finds herself with two unlikely allies: Sylas, the equerry that collected her from her previous home, and Death.

I’ve been wanting something a bit different lately, reading wise, and I think this was just what I needed. It had enough of the familiar (gothic atmosphere, mystery) that made me interested and enough of the different (fantasy) that gave me the sense of reading something new.

Signa’s an interesting character. She’s unable to die although she is able to go into this death-like state where she is able to communicate with Death personified. There’s an interesting dynamic between Signa and Death and it has several layers. She’s the only human that Death is able to communicate with, the only person that his touch won’t kill and it makes for an interesting connection between the two. Death is very captivated by her.

As someone death follows, Signa has a bit of a stigma attached to her, which has made her entrance into society a bit trying. She has also put upon herself a particular way she has to behave due to what she has read in one of her late mother’s books. There’s a lot of things that Signa has to figure out but the most important one is who she is and not who she thinks she has to be to please society. I do feel that we get a good sense of Signa but I think a little more backstory, especially regarding her previous guardians, would have been beneficial. Unfortunately, we don’t get a lot of depth into the character of Death, which was a bit disappointing.

The romance in this one was interesting. There’s an attraction between Signa and Death. I know that this isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea seeing as he basically watched her grow up but I decided to look at it as Death is ageless and treated it as I would with a vampire romance. There’s also some interesting, yet mild, shadowy sex scenes and while it does come off as a bit out there, the author made it and the relationship seem realistic. While it worked, I still would have liked more on-page development and more interaction to see their connection develop. When a book starts with characters already having a history (or having been introduced off the page), I think that authors occasionally forget the readers are just now meeting the characters and have no clue about their past interactions.

I know that this was/is categorized as ‘romantasy’ and we do have a romance of sorts, and a love triangle, in the book but this leans heavily into the mystery. I didn’t mind that seeing as I came into the book expecting a mystery with a side of romance per the synopsis. I think that if you go into the book expecting a heavy side of romance, you’ll be disappointed, which is why this should, in my opinion, be categorized as a ‘fantasy mystery’.  

The mystery was solid and grounded. I do feel that the particulars of the mystery was appropriate for the era (Regency) in which it was set. I feel as though someone sitting down to their morning tea would have read about a mystery of this type in the broadsheets. I did find it rather obvious, both the identity of the person and their motives, even though there were a few red herrings. It came down to connecting characters and paying attention to what they were and weren’t saying.

This book was filled with secondary characters and I found the majority of them to be likable. There were a few characters that I found to be annoying but I feel as though they were representing the new world Signa found herself in. What I liked was the way the Hawthorne family accepted Signa into their family. I also liked that someone from Signa’s past is now amongst her friend group, it allowed more insight to Signa’s life before Thorn Grove.

I’ve seen this book referred to as ‘Gothic’ more times than I can count and, while I’m not disagreeing, I’m not agreeing to the way in which the term ‘Gothic’ is being used. This book is not ‘Gothic’ in theme or tone but it does have a Gothic atmosphere/aesthetic. The horror genre is subjective but, in my opinion, I would not classify this as a ‘horror’ novel. Yes, it does contain some graphic imagery but, again, the tone is not that of a ‘horror’ novel.

With this being a book that features Death personified, it does touch on the subject of death and grief. While the subject of grief isn’t heavily dwelled upon, there were some touching passages and I felt like they gave a realness and depth to the story.

This one does end, not so much on a cliffhanger, but with an event that starts the next book. I was glad I had Foxglove on hand because I was eager to see how things played out.

Overall, while I enjoyed this one, I would have liked a bit more depth in certain aspects: more of Signa’s backstory, a more in-depth look at Death, more development with the relationship. While I wanted more development, I wasn’t expecting it going in as this is more mystery oriented. I feel like I enjoyed the book because I knew this was going to be more historical mystery than romance when I started reading. 

Monday, April 1, 2024

Starling House by Alix E. Harrow

Eden, Kentucky, is just another dying, bad-luck town, known only for the legend of E. Starling, the reclusive nineteenth-century author and illustrator who wrote The Underland--and disappeared. Before she vanished, Starling House appeared. But everyone agrees that it’s best to let the uncanny house―and its last lonely heir, Arthur Starling―go to rot.


Opal knows better than to mess with haunted houses or brooding men, but an unexpected job offer might be a chance to get her brother out of Eden. Too quickly, though, Starling House starts to feel dangerously like something she’s never had: a home.


As sinister forces converge on Starling House, Opal and Arthur are going to have to make a dire choice to dig up the buried secrets of the past and confront their own fears, or let Eden be taken over by literal nightmares.


If Opal wants a home, she’ll have to fight for it.

Publisher: Tor | Genre: Romantsy | Source: Purchased | Rating: 4

Opal has been obsessed with The Underland—a dark fairytale—, the book’s reclusive author, E. Starling, and Starling House. She knows that Starling House is considered off-limits and haunted but Opal’s more than pleased when the owner, the broody and mysterious Arthur Starling, offers her job.  As each day passes, Starling House offers more of its secrets to Opal as does its mysterious owner. While the house is starting to feel like home, it’s also unleashing more of its darkness on the town. As Opal and Arthur work through their budding feelings for each other, they must also fight to save their town.

I picked this up on a whim whilst strolling through my local indie bookstore. It’s not what I normally pick up. I’m usually not one to reach for fantasy, or romantasy, but I was intrigued that this one was tagged as a ‘Southern Gothic Horror Fantasy’, and while I have a few thoughts on that, I did enjoy this book.

Opal’s not had an easy life. She’s searching for answers, trying to survive, and trying to take care of her younger brother. Arthur’s pretty much cut off from the world as he’s the guardian of Starling House. They’re both lost, alone, and have the weight of the world upon them. In a way, they’re both united through their loneliness. Their friendship/relationship is something that Opal is willing to fight for even though Arthur keeps pushing her away due to his responsibility. There’s also a war that they’re gearing up to fight and they have a lot of personal wars to wage as well so there’s a lot thrust upon them.

Arthur was a bit Byronic hero mixed with the Beast from Beauty and the Beast and it worked.  I would have liked more information about certain aspects of his life; it would have given him a more fleshed-out feel. Opal was a bit hard to take. I had to remind myself several times that she was twenty-seven instead of a teenager because her actions were often childish and annoying.

While there is a romance between Arthur and Opal, I don’t feel as though there was enough development on the page. It would have been nice to see more than just the start.

Starling House is a character of its own and while there was just enough information provided, I would love to see Starling House the main character of a novella as there’s so much going on with the house itself it would make for an interesting read.

There’s so many secondary characters that had the potential to be interesting and ended up not being used to their full potential. While it didn’t draw my interest away, I feel there were a few missed opportunities.

At the heart of this story, there’s a bit of mystery and while I found it to be interesting, the conclusion was a little lackluster. I don’t feel that it was supposed to have been one of the major threads of the story (it was more just a bridge to explain why certain things were able to happen) but it would have been nice if it had been a bit more solid.

This book does start slow; the first hundred pages felt like they dragged on and were a bit repetitive. Thankfully, it does pick up and hold a nice pace all the way through. I found the footnotes to be a little odd. They didn’t add anything and they disappeared halfway through the book. I feel as though they were added just to be trendy. While this book does have amazing artwork sprinkled throughout, I feel as though they missed the opportunity to include a bit more mixed media (newspaper clippings, interviews, etc.).

I do want to say that while the story is about Opal, Arthur, and Starling House there’s also an underlying vein of social commentary regarding the impact the coal industry has on small towns.

Overall, while I did have some minor issues with this one, they weren’t enough of a problem to damper my enjoyment. I liked the combination of family secrets, found family, legends and lore, and magical realism. 

Was this the ‘Southern Gothic Horror Fantasy’ I was promised? Not really. Was it Southern? It’s set in Kentucky so it is southern. Was it ‘Southern Gothic’? In my opinion, and according to the origins of the Southern Gothic genre, no it was not. Southern Gothic is set in the Deep South and contains elements that are more macabre. Was this ‘Gothic’?  Yes, it had the right elements to be considered a modern gothic. Was it Horror? For me personally, no; I know readers have their own version of what horror is but I’m not able to name one element of horror in this book unless I would say the house itself but, for me, that would be stretching it a bit. Was it ‘Fantasy’? It’s more magical realism with a dash of fantasy.


I would define this book as a modern gothic with elements of magical realism. To me, Starling House ticked those boxes. Again, going back to how I was educated, ‘Southern Gothic’ contains darker elements, which I don’t feel this book had whereas ‘Modern Gothic’ adheres to the elements of the original gothic literature but set in a modern setting. 

Friday, March 29, 2024

Fool Me Once (Netflix Series Review)

 This riveting eight-part psychological suspense series follows Maya Stern, a veteran who is seeking answers about the death of her sister and husband.  With an all-star cast, Fool Me Once will have you glued to your screen as each twist reveals a darker secret.

When Maya Stern sees her deceased husband on the nanny-cam and the babysitter attacks her rather than answering her questions, Maya soon finds herself looking into the dark, long-buried secrets of the Burkett family. With each secret that’s unburied, Maya discovers the connection between the Burkett’s and her sister’s murder. Will Maya be able to discover the truth about her husband and sister before the Burkett family discovers she’s searching for answers?

I’m going to start with a disclaimer, I’m not a massive fan of Harlan Coben’s novels (I just don’t get on with his writing style) but I do love the majority of the Netflix adaptations. I’ve been waiting, impatiently, for this one since it was first announced and, I have to say, I have no regrets.


This was a very layered series. Maya’s a former special ops pilot and her military career ended due to questionable choices she made during her last mission. While overseas, her sister was murdered in what seemed to be a robbery but Maya, as well as her niece and nephew, feel that there was more to the story. When Maya’s husband, Joe Burkett, is murdered but is seen weeks later on the nanny-cam, she finds herself going down a dangerous road as she uncovers the many secrets of the powerful Burkett family.


Each episode reveals just enough information about Maya’s life, Joe’s mysterious appearance, Maya’s sister’s mystery, and the tangled web of the Burkett family that both satisfies you and leaves you wanting more.


While the series was wrapped up nicely, I do feel as though there’s a few plot holes I would have liked filled (I’m not going to reveal anything as I don’t want to spoil the series). I also feel certain characters weren’t developed to their full potential.


The casting was spot on. Richard Armitage (Joe Burkett) carries a dark, broodiness that was perfect for the mysterious Joe Burkett. Michelle Keegan (Maya Stern) is this non-stoppable force to be reckoned with that exploded to life. Joanna Lumley (Judith Burkett) is the classy, graceful powerhouse that will destroy you with a smile on her face. The remaining cast shone as well.


Overall, I highly recommend watching this series. I think there’s a little something for everyone but fans of psychological suspense, mysteries, and/or British police procedurals will love this one.


Thursday, March 28, 2024

The Cloisters by Katy Hays

On the wheel of fortune, who will emerge on top... and who will die?

When Ann Stilwell arrives in New York City, she hopes to spend her summer working as a curatorial associate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Instead, she finds herself assigned to The Cloisters, a gothic museum and garden renowned for its collection of medieval and Renaissance art.

There she is drawn into a small circle of charismatic but enigmatic researchers, including Patrick Roland, the museum's mercurial curator who specializes in the history of tarot; Rachel Mondray, Patrick's beautiful curatorial associate and sometime muse; and Leo Bitburg, the gardener who nurtures the museum's precious collection of medicinal and poison plants.

Relieved to have left her troubled past in rural Washington behind her, Ann longs for the approbation of her colleagues and peers and is happy to indulge their more outlandish theories, only to find that their fascination with fortune-telling runs deeper than academic obsession. Patrick is determined to prove that ancient divination holds the key to the foretelling of the future. And when Ann stumbles across a breakthrough in the form of a mysterious and previously-believed lost deck of 15th-century Italian tarot cards, she finds herself at the centre of a dangerous game of power, toxic friendship and ambition.

Then there is an unexpected and devastating death, and suddenly everyone becomes a suspect. As the game being played within the Cloisters spirals out of control, Ann must decide if the tarot cards can not only teach her about the past, but also about her future.

Publisher: Atria | Genre: Suspense/Dark Academia/Mystery | Source: Purchased | Rating: 2

Power, toxic friendships, secrets, and lies roam the halls of the Cloisters in this tale that makes you ask, “What are you willing to give up for the work?”

Assigned to the Cloisters by a twist of fate, Ann Stilwell soon finds herself immersed in the world of tarot and the history behind the first known deck. Working closely with Patrick (the curator) and Rachel (associate curator), Ann soon grows close to Rachel who seems to be harboring her own dark secrets. As Ann starts developing a relationship with Leo, the gardener of the Cloisters’ poison gardens, she starts to discover there’s more mysteries than just the artifacts housed inside the museum. When an unexpected death rocks the Cloisters, Ann starts wondering if she truly knows the people she calls friends.

I pre-ordered this one from my local indie bookshop under the impression this would deal with more of a medieval-themed mystery due to it taking place in the Cloisters, a division of the MET that focuses on medieval art. I didn’t realize that it was centered around tarot, I really should have read the full blurb before I pre-ordered it. I ended up sticking this on my shelf and forgetting about it until I pulled the title from my TBR jar in January.

This one wasn’t my favorite and I’m a little embarrassed to say I started reading it on January 28th and didn’t’ finish it until February 19th. It was exceedingly slow and unbearably boring.

The characters were horrible people. I couldn’t force myself to care about any of them. They had no redeeming qualities and each time something else was revealed it was worse than the last. They were selfish, greedy, and needed to grow up and take responsibility for their actions, which never happened. Even more annoying was the fact they were rewarded for their horrific behavior.

The mystery was lackluster due to the amount of foreshadowing. There was so much buildup that when it was finally revealed, there was nothing to be surprised about because the author practically outlined it from the start. I also found myself questioning the logistics of certain scenes due to the amount of cameras in the Cloisters.

Overall, I found this book to be boring. Tarot doesn’t interest me and it was almost another character in the book. I didn’t care about the characters and the plot fell flat.  

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Some Like It Plaid by Angela Quarles

When Ashley Miller sees a Craigslist ad for an all-expense paid vacation to Scotland with a handsome Highland “escort”, she’s all over it. Worn out from working two jobs to pay off the debts her scam artist ex-husband left her with, she just needs a friggin’ break already. Rolling, misty mountains of the Scottish Highlands, here she comes!


But one minute she’s sipping a latte and the next she’s zapped to the 2nd century and promptly informed she’s managed to wed her handsome Highlander without even an “I do.” Oh, hell no.

After a devastating tragedy, Connall’s tribe is left with few marriageable women. When his Druid priest suggests a place filled with bonnie lasses, he of course agrees to go fetch one for himself. But nothing prepared Connall for his sassy new wife, nor his tribe for a woman determined to see equal rights for all women.

Now the men are threatening revolt if he can’t rein his young wife in, but it might be too late. The women are demanding the men get “woke”—which of course makes no sense because they already woke that morn—and give women “the vote,” whatever the bloody hell that is. Despite all that, Connall can’t stop wanting to convince his wife to get naked, and he’s starting to wonder if he’s been bewitched.

Only the more he gets to know her, the more he starts to think she’s just what they needed. If only he survives her next demand...

Publisher: Entangled  |  Genre: Time Travel Romance  | Source: Author | Rating: 2.5

The author kindly sent me this book when it released back in 2019 and, sadly, I just could not get into it. I ended up putting the title in my TBR jar and it ended up being the book I pulled for February.  

Here’s what’s going on. After a raid left his tribe devoid of marriageable women, Connall, the chief’s son, seeks help from the tribe’s spell caster to travel to the future in hopes of finding a wife. Once in present day, Connall places an ad on Craig’s List, which Ashley, eager to escape the chaos her ex-husband has caused her, answers believing that she is accepting the job as maid in some type of Scottish estate. Realizing she’s in the past, Ashley has a thing or two she’s determined to change and Connall’s determined to convince Ashley to be his wife in more than just name. Not only does Ashley have to navigate her way through a strange time and place, she has to figure out what her feelings for Connall are and if she’s willing to give up her old life.

This one was a bit slow to start but I did enjoy the direction it was heading. I found the concept of Connall traveling from 156 Scotland to present day San Francisco in search of a wife intriguing but the book didn’t live up to its full potential.

I struggled with the characters a bit. Connall was interesting to a point—it’s all about his duty to his tribe—but I don’t feel as though I was able to figure out who Connell was. I needed more about his character. Ashley wasn’t one of my favorites. She’s okay at the start then gets a little annoying as the book on. What bothered me with Ashley was the fact she wanted to bring her ‘wokeness’ to the tribe (more about that later).

The romance was just lacking in connection. There’s no chemistry between Connall and Ashley. I was waiting for some connection to develop and it never happened. There were a few spicy scenes but those even lacked chemistry. The majority of the plot focused on the workings of the tribe and while I have no problem with that, and do like seeing it when it’s done correctly, I don’t want it to crowd out the romance in a book that’s labeled ‘romance’.

There is a magic system in this book. Mungan, the spell caster, performs several spells in the book and, while I did find this approach interesting, I don’t feel as though it was explained enough. It would have been interesting to learn more about this magic system as it gave both Connall and Ashley interesting abilities. Since Ashley had her phone and laptop with her when she traveled to the past, she ended up with the ability of a search engine, which made the tribe view her as a seer. There was also a difference in which the way time passed. In the past, it’s faster than in the future, it would have been nice to have an explanation.  

I did like the nod to history in this one. It’s does show the turbulent relationship between the Roman’s and the Celtic tribes during this time but, again, there’s no balance. It goes from romance straight into historical fiction.

I’m struggling with the rating for his one. I originally gave this a 3 because it was okay and I don’t think most readers will have the issues that I have but I ended up changing my rating to a 2.5 (and I do feel that .5 is being generous).

What I didn’t like about the book was the lack of research and this will probably be a me thing, something that the historian in me found irksome. Here’s a few of the things that irked me.

Ashley wants the tribe to get ‘woke’, she wants the women to have more of a say in the way the tribe functions. The book is set in 156 A.D., this was a little over 100 years after the death of Boudicca, and Connall’s tribe is the Horse People or the Epidii. They were a Pictish tribe from the Kintyre region of Scotland. Women had power within Pictish tribes. They held leadership positions, they were warriors, they were diplomats, they held positions in council, and so much more. They were not sitting around waiting for the men in the tribe to tell them what to do.

Connall wears a great kilt. The great kilt wasn’t invented until the end of the 16th century. The lèine, which was a woolen tunic and the precursor to the great kilt, wasn’t invented until the end of the 3rd century or the beginning of the 4th. Connall would have worn a braccae, which is a pair of loose fitting woolen trousers that was belted at the waist. It’s possible that they also wore a shorter type of tunic.

The last thing that irks me is the lack of Scottish Gaelic used. In her author notes, she states that, “it wouldn’t have been smart or possible” to use Scottish Gaelic when writing from Connall’s perspective. While I don’t think everything Connall said should have been in Gaelic, I do think the author should have included more than just a handful of popular sayings or stopped using the phrase, ‘he said in Gaelic’.  I find it both insulting as a reader and lazy for the author.

Overall, I feel like this was an attempt to jump on the Outlander bandwagon and it fell flat. It needed a bit more chemistry, world building, and balance. While I would struggle to recommend this book, I do recommend the author’s Must Love series. 

Monday, March 25, 2024

This Spells Love by Kate Robb

What if one little wish changed everything?

When Gemma gets dumped by her long-term boyfriend, she reacts the way any reasonable twenty-eight-year-old would: by getting drunk with her sister, kooky aunt, and best friend, Dax. After one too many margaritas, they decide to perform a love- cleansing spell, which promises to erase Gemma’s ex from her memory. They follow all the instructions, including a platonic kiss from Dax to seal the deal.

When Gemma wakes up, she realizes that this silly spell has worked. Not only does it seem that she never dated her ex, but the rest of her life is completely unrecognizable. The worst part: Dax has no idea who she is.


To reverse the spell and get back to her old life, Gemma must convince her once-best-friend-now-near-stranger to kiss her. But as she carries out her plans, she finds herself falling for him—hard. Soon, Gemma begins to wonder whether she even wants to go back to the way things once were. What if Dax was The One all along?

Publisher: The Dial Press |  Genre: Magical Realism/Romance  | Source: BOTM | Rating: 3.5 

It’s been a minute since I’ve picked up a romance book so when this popped up as one of the selections for Book of the Month, I thought I would give it a go.


After getting drunk and performing a love-cleansing spell with the help of her aunt, sister, and best friend, Gemma wakes up in a completely new version of her life, one where her best friend doesn’t remember her. While Gemma is okay with this version of her life—all of her dreams have come true—she’s not okay with Dax not knowing her and she’s willing to do anything to make sure she gets back to her old life. Although to do so, she must make Dax kiss her to reverse the spell. First, she has to get to know this new version of her best friend and soon she starts wondering if Dax has had her heart all along.


This was a quick read and I did have fun with it but I had a bit of trouble believing the romance. I was also a little disappointed because I was expecting more ‘witchy vibes’ and sadly, they were lacking.


Pre-spell, Gemma and Dax were the best of friends. They were extremely close and shared everything. Post-spell, they knew nothing about each other. While Gemma remembers the original version of Dax and their closeness, she doesn’t know this new, down-on-his-luck Dax and he knows nothing about Gemma. While they develop a relationship, Gemma is forming a majority of this new relationship based on the old version of Dax.


I struggled with the fact that 90% of this book took place in the alternate version of Gemma’s life. The romance between Dax and Gemma started in this new version of their lives then continued once they were back in their real lives. I needed to see more development of the romance in their actual lives. I feel like half the book should have been in this alternate version and the other half in real life. This book would have benefited from being a bit more balanced because I did enjoy watching the antics of the alternate version of Dax and Gemma.


What I really enjoyed was Kate Robb’s cozy writing style. While some attention to detail was lacking, she has this incredible ability to make her writing feel like the softest, coziest blanket you want to curl up with and it made for a fun, quick read. For a debut novel, it wasn’t the worst that I’ve read and I’m eager to read more from this author.


Overall, this suffered from a balance issue. The author should have either kept the characters in the alternate world or split the time evenly between the two. While I struggled with the believability of the romance in their ‘real’ world, I did enjoy the way the characters and the romance developed in their alternate world and the way they had fun together.