Friday, July 23, 2021

Review - - Devil in Disguise

Devil in Disguise
by Lisa Kleypas
Ravenels - Book 7
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: July 27, 2021
Reviewed by PJ

“The devil never tries to make people do the wrong thing by scaring them. He does it by tempting them.”

Lady Merritt Sterling, a strong-willed young widow who’s running her late husband’s shipping company, knows London society is dying to catch her in a scandal. So far, she’s been too smart to provide them with one. But then she meets Keir MacRae, a rough-and-rugged Scottish whisky distiller, and all her sensible plans vanish like smoke. They couldn’t be more different, but their attraction is powerful, raw and irresistible.

From the moment Keir MacRae arrives in London, he has two goals. One: don’t fall in love with the dazzling Lady Merritt Sterling. Two: avoid being killed.

So far, neither of those is going well.

Keir doesn’t know why someone wants him dead until fate reveals the secret of his mysterious past. His world is thrown into upheaval, and the only one he trusts is Merritt.

Their passion blazes with an intensity Merritt has never known before, making her long for the one thing she can’t have from Keir MacRae: forever. As danger draws closer, she’ll do whatever it takes to save the man she loves . . . even knowing he might be the devil in disguise.

PJ's Thoughts:

As a long-time Kleypas fan, I have to say that these second-generation stories are giving me all the joy. Merritt embodies qualities passed down from both of her parents (American Lillian Bowman and Marcus, Earl of Westcliff from It Happened One Autumn) and puts them to good use both in business as well as her personal life. She's strong, independent, stubborn, and about to fall for a man who is all wrong for her. But, what if he isn't?

If Merritt doesn't want Keir MacRae, she can send him my way. A gruff Scotsman with a mysterious past, a whisky distiller with the weight of his clan on his shoulders, a man who matches wits with Merritt during the day and sets her body aflame after dark? Yes, please! 

Kleypas uses danger, passion, family secrets, humor, sparkling banter, heart-tugging emotion, and unexpected twists to bring this story to life and I was with her every step of the way. It is perfect? No. Do I care? Not in the least. Devil in Disguise is one of those books I'm going to turn to in the future when I need a good comfort read. It's everything I love about Lisa Kleypas and the characters she brings to life. I hope she has more second-generation stories in the works because I am here for them!

Though this is the seventh book in the Ravenels series, it stands exceptionally well on its own. Long-time fans will enjoy the cameo appearances of first-generation heroes and heroines from the Wallflowers series but readers new to Kleypas should be able to jump in here without any confusion. I enthusiastically recommend adding this one to your summer reading list.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Review & Giveaway - - Wedding in the Keys

A Wedding in the Keys
by Hope Holloway
Coconut Key - Book 6
Publisher: Hope Holloway
Release Date: July 23, 2021
Reviewed by PJ

Will there be blue skies and happy lives for the wedding day…or is change in the forecast again?

The bonds of love that have formed and grown over the past year in Coconut Key reach a culmination of white lace and champagne…for some. For others, things may not turn out as they expected.

New arrivals on the island turn plans and lives upside down, testing the strength of relationships. Everyone has to make major decisions about life, work, and love. The future may look different for Beck, Savannah, Peyton, and Jessie…but whatever it is, with family and friends, it will be warm, happy, and dappled in sunshine.

PJ's Thoughts:

A few weeks ago, I discovered A Secret in the Keys, the first book in a new series set in the Florida Keys. I love the Keys, liked the sound of the story, and decided to give it a try. It's a 7-book series but the first five books had already been published so I figured if I liked book one I could read a book every couple weeks over the summer and finish about the time the final book is published in September. I finished book one in a day and by the time I reached the mini-cliffhanger at the end I was so fully immersed in the lives of these characters that I had to know what happened next. I read books two - five over the next four days. I couldn't help myself. This series is just that good. Book six, A Wedding in the Keys, continues the story threads surrounding Beck and her family that have evolved over the course of the series and is another emotional journey that I could not put down. Once again, I was immediately immersed into the lives of these characters, eagerly flipping pages from beginning to end. Holloway's writing is engaging and compelling, tackling real-life issues with humor and hope, while aiming straight for the heart. I spent a lot of time laughing, crying, gasping, and cheering throughout the series. I also love that she continues to surprise me in each book. After reading book five, I had doubts about one of the relationships. In book six, Holloway confirms those doubts but she also throws in a surprise twist that I did not see coming. I love it when an author does that and I cannot wait to find out where she takes it in book seven.  

It's hard to place the Coconut Key series into a specific category as these books are filled with an abundance of delicious storylines and a variety of tropes. It's a multi-generational family saga, with a women's fiction vibe as well as emotional romantic threads (for both young and mature characters). There's plenty of chemistry among the couples but the on-page heat factor is mild. There are also family secrets, betrayals, emotional losses, second chances, and new beginnings, all wrapped up in strong bonds of family and friendship, with the strength, resilience, determination, and growth of intriguing and inspiring women at its core. I guess if I had to name a category, I'd label it "Delicious Must-Read Summer Fun." I'm hooked on Hope Holloway, counting down the weeks until the release of book seven, A Promise in the Keys, in September and already excited about whatever she has planned for readers next.

This is one of those series where I strongly recommend reading the books in order. They are:

A Secret in the Keys (Book 1)
A Reunion in the Keys (Book 2)
A Season in the Keys (Book 3)
A Haven in the Keys (Book 4)
A Return to the Keys (Book 5)
A Wedding in the Keys (Book 6)
A Promise in the Keys (Book 7)

Have you discovered Hope Holloway yet?

Is there a new author, book, or series you've found this summer that you recommend?

One person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM, July 25 will receive a Kindle copy of book one, A Secret in the Keys

*Must be 18

*U.S. only

*Void where prohibited

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Review - - Sisters in Arms

Sisters in Arms
by Kaia Alderson
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Release Date: August 3, 2021
Reviewed by PJ

Grace Steele and Eliza Jones may be from completely different backgrounds, but when it comes to the army, specifically the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), they are both starting from the same level. Not only will they be among the first class of female officers the army has even seen, they are also the first Black women allowed to serve.

As these courageous women help to form the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, they are dealing with more than just army bureaucracy—everyone is determined to see this experiment fail. For two northern women, learning to navigate their way through the segregated army may be tougher than boot camp. Grace and Eliza know that there is no room for error; they must be more perfect than everyone else.

When they finally make it overseas, to England and then France, Grace and Eliza will at last be able to do their parts for the country they love, whatever the risk to themselves.

Based on the true story of the 6888th Postal Battalion (the Six Triple Eight), Sisters in Arms explores the untold story of what life was like for the only all-Black, female U.S. battalion to be deployed overseas during World War II. 

PJ's Thoughts:

This was a part of WWII history I was never taught in school and I enjoyed learning about it through Sisters in Arms. Alderson did a good job of bringing these characters to life, illustrating the challenges and inequities they faced, both as women and as women of color. And those challenges didn't only come from the Caucasian military. The obstacles they had to overcome in order to serve their country originated in their Black families and communities as well. They truly were trailblazers. 

Overall, I thought the author did a good job of showing both the overt as well as the subtle racial aggressions these women were subjected to - at boot camp, after being commissioned, and when out in the communities - and how that impacted the evolution of these characters. Knowing many of the incidents were based on actual events and people made them all the more raw, realistic, infuriating, and heartbreaking. They also provided the opportunity to explore the resilience, strength, and evolving maturing of Grace and Eliza throughout their journey. The women who returned home following their service in Europe were vastly different from the girls who impulsively applied to serve their country.

While the pace of the story was steady and kept my interest engaged, I eventually grew a bit tired of the petty personal differences between Eliza and Grace. There were more than a few times when I wanted to tell them to grow up (they do...eventually). Also, the ending seemed rushed and open ended. By that time, I had become invested in these two women. I wanted more information about their lives following their return. Though hints are dropped and the ending is hopeful, I guess I wanted that package wrapped with a big bow of details. Overall though, Sisters in Arms was a solid read detailing an important chapter in our history and putting college-educated, hard-working, vulnerable, but determined, Black female faces to the historical facts. I recommend it. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Review - - The Lost and Found Necklace

The Lost and Found Necklace
by Louisa Leaman
Publisher: Soucebooks Landmark
Release Date: July 13, 2021
Reviewed by PJ

Jess has always loved taking chances, but after a terrible accident, she's ready for a quieter life. No more unsuitable boyfriends or unsafe adventures. More time with Tim, her dependable boyfriend who seldom surprises her.

More time with family, like her ailing grandmother, Nancy, who wants Jess to bring home the lost vintage necklace that has been in their family for generations. The delicate moonstone pendant features a fluttering butterfly, and some say it has a history of leading its wearer to her soul mate. Jess isn't sure about that, but the necklace belongs to the Taylor women, and she's determined to bring it home.

All Jess has to do is bid on it at a local auction. But when a rival bidder outplays her and sweeps the necklace off the table, Jess finds herself face-to-face with a charming stranger who has his own reasons for wanting the necklace. He might be willing to part with it, if Jess will have dinner with him...

Desperate to bring back the necklace before her grandmother's health gets worse, Jess has no choice, even if her boyfriend objects. She has to bring the necklace home, no matter what it does to her own happily ever after...

PJ's Thoughts:

I've been branching out a bit this summer, trying new authors and books that typically wouldn't have been at the top of my queue in the past, such as this British rom-com by Louisa Leaman. I have to say, I'm so glad I gave it a chance. 

At the center of The Lost and Found Necklace is an art nouveau necklace, it's journey through the years, and the profound impact it has had on multiple generations of women (and a few men) in Jess's family. The story is a bit mystery, a bit family saga, a bit romance, and a journey of self-discovery which I thoroughly enjoyed. I liked how the author interwove the threads of the stories of Jess's ancestors with the current family relationships and how the lessons of the past impacted the decisions facing Jess in present day. 

All of the characters are so well depicted; I felt as if I knew each of them, understanding their motivations, accepting their flaws. The story is well-paced, filled with humor, poignant emotion, forgiveness, understanding, self-acceptance, and an overall hopeful vibe. I enjoyed the evolution of the relationship between Jess and her sister (yes, I may have cheered at the end), was surprised by the revelations from their estranged father, and knew which man my heart wanted Jess to choose while still wanting love and happiness for the man left behind. There are no bad guys here, just right ones and wrong ones for the woman in question. Kudos to the author for keeping me guessing as to which was which right up until the end. 

If you're looking for a sweet, charming, and realistic story that will take you from England to Wales to old Hollywood (not time travel - stories of past generations unveiled), introduce you to engaging characters, reinforce your belief in the "magic" of soulmates, and deliver a hopeful, happy ending, add The Lost and Found Necklace to your summer reading list. It has my enthusiastic recommendation.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Review - - Her Royal Payne

Her Royal Payne
by Shana Galen
The Survivors - Book 10
Publisher: Shana Galen
Release Date: June 15, 2021
Reviewed by PJ

He’s a pain…literally.

Rowden Payne, known as The Royal Payne, makes his living in the high stakes world of bareknuckle boxing. The disavowed son of a duke likes the focus boxing requires. It keeps his mind off the tragedies in his past. But just as he’s poised to knock out his biggest rival, he’s mesmerized by a pair of exotic hazel eyes in the crowd. He finds himself flat on his back and short fifty pounds.

She’s a prude with a problem.
Modesty Brown’s father has vanished. The strict minister has never disappeared before, and Modesty is left having to rely on elders of the church for help. But when she becomes a burden to them, she has to seek out her aunt, a woman of high rank. Modesty’s only way of finding her is by asking the only man she knows of that class—Rowden Payne. Unfortunately, she’s the one responsible for the Royal Payne losing his crucial fight.

Sometimes the hardest hit is the one to the heart.
Rowden doesn’t want to care for anyone or anything, but if he can just help Modesty find her father, he can be rid of her. Soon the revelation of her father’s secrets and lies puts Modesty, Rowden, and their friends in danger, and if Rowden can’t admit his feelings for Modesty, he’ll lose her forever.

PJ's Thoughts:

I should begin by saying that, yes, this is the 10th book in Shana Galen's The Survivors series but, no, you don't have to have read the earlier books to thoroughly enjoy this one. The 9th book, Sweet Rogue of Mine (read PJ's review) is the only other book in which Payne has a (secondary) role. However, The Survivors is one of my all-time favorite historical romance series and I do highly recommend all of the books. 

After meeting Rowden Payne in Nash's book, I was curious about what type of heroine Galen would create for him. I have to admit, I never guessed it would be the prudish daughter of a puritanical, fire and brimstone preacher! But, as unlikely as that pairing may seem, these two are so good together, each being exactly what the other needs to fill their hearts with happiness. I loved Modesty's evolution as she throws off the yoke of perfection she's spent her life carrying and begins to discover who she is and what she wants. I adored Rowden, ached for his anguish over what he'd lost, and cheered for what he found with Modesty. I loved the caring between them, the humor, and the passion. 

Leading a wonderful secondary cast of characters are Rowden's boxing manager, Chibale Okoro and London's most sought after dressmaker, Madame Renauld. Their romance was sweet, passionate, and definitely sigh-worthy. I loved seeing this successful Black couple prominently placed in the book. 

Other secondary characters evoked a plethora of emotions, enriching the overall story. Highlights for me included Rowden's manservant, Trogdon (I could so vividly envision this character!), and former hero and heroine, Ewan Mostyn (still a man of few words) and Lady Lorraine (still a force to be reckoned with). 

Shana Galen once again has created a world of passion, danger, brotherhood, and love that reeled me in and kept me engaged from beginning to end. Ten books in and I'm still eager for more. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Review - - How Sweet it Is

How Sweet It Is
by Dylan Newton
Publisher: Forever
Release Date: July 13, 2021
Reviewed by PJ

Event planner Kate Sweet is famous for creating the perfect happily-ever-after moment for her clients’ dream weddings. So how is it that her best friend has roped her into planning a bestselling horror writer’s book launch extravaganza? But the second Kate meets—or rather, accidentally 
maims—the drop-dead-hot Drake Matthews, her well-ordered life quickly transforms into an absolute nightmare.

Drake Matthews is tired of the spotlight and tired of his reputation as the Knight of Nightmares. He's really a nice guy! But he’s not prepared for Kate, a fearless agent of chaos in steel-tipped stilettos, or for that sweet sting of attraction he feels for her. She’s inspiring him to take his writing in a whole new direction—one that no one expects. Because now Kate and Drake are changing up the rules, and this plot twist might just surprise everyone . . . including themselves.

PJ's Thoughts:

You all know how much I enjoy discovering debut authors, especially ones who blow my socks off right out of the gate as Dylan Newton has done with How Sweet It Is. After turning the final page of this delightful rom-com, I immediately emailed the following message to the publicist at Forever who had sent me the ARC: 

“Picture me bowing at your feet in gratitude for putting HOW SWEET IT IS on my radar. I thought I’d read a few pages yesterday (even though I have so many books waiting in the queue) to get a feel for the author’s voice. Could. Not. Put. It. Down. This book was all the sunshine I needed yesterday."

There are so many specific details I'd love to share with you that made this book one of my favorite rom-coms this year but I'm going to be purposely vague because you all deserve to discover the humor, chemistry, sweetness, vulnerability, depth of emotion, (did I mention humor?), and romance for yourselves as you become immersed in the non-stop fun and feel-good pleasure of this book. It all begins with a first encounter that skips right over "meet cute," heads straight for "meet hilarious" and sets the tone for the entire book. There are fan fanatics, nosy neighbors, brothers I want more of, devious former lovers, and a couple that seems all wrong on paper that just might be perfectly right in real life. There are also drool-worthy cupcakes, a questionable "attack" dog, and an airborne romantic gesture that I sincerely hope the author based on a real-life experience because, wow, my heart absolutely melted. I adored both Kate and Drake and pulled so hard for their happy ending through all of the ups, downs, and misadventures of their journey. 

I enthusiastically encourage everyone wanting to bring a bright ray of sunshine (and a touch of autumn) into your life to pick up a copy of Dylan Newton's How Sweet It Is. It's my laugh-out-loud, swoon-worthy, feel-good romantic comedy of the summer. If you love it as much as I did, you'll be happy to know Newton will be writing a book for each of Drake's brothers too. I can't wait. 


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Cover Reveal - - Not Playing Fair


In May, Terri Osburn launched her new NOT series with the humorous and heartfelt Not You Again (read PJ's 5-star review). Today, I'm excited to share the cover reveal of the second book in the NOT series: Not Playing Fair, coming to you August 30, 2021, less than two months away. Mark your calendars for August 30 or pre-order today! 

Terri Osburn has revealed the cover and blurb for 
Not Playing Fair, book 2 in The NOT Series!

Releasing August 30, 2021

The universe is not playing fair.
First, my new boss says changes are coming to our library that threaten the programs I run. Then a letter arrives from my mother—whom I haven’t seen in more than twenty years—saying who knows what because I’m refusing to open it. Last but not least, the man who dumped me eight months ago is telling people that I’m trying to get him back.
Universe, I assure you I am not.
The one bright spot in all of this is the new guy in my life. He’s sweet, adorable, and seems totally interested. There’s just one problem. I might have bent the truth a little when we first met, and now I need to confess before he finds out from someone else. But when the truth finally does comes out, I’m not the only one with some explaining to do. 
Maybe I can’t blame the universe for everything.
Not Playing Fair is about family, forgiveness, and the friends who stand by us through it all. Come along as librarian Megan Knox becomes the heroine of her own story, and finds love along the way.

Cover Designer: Bookin' It Designs

Pre-order your copy today!


Meet Terri Osburn

Terri Osburn writes contemporary romance with heart, hope, and lots of humor. After landing on the bestseller lists with her Anchor Island Series, she moved on to the Ardent Springs series, which earned her a Book Buyers Best award in 2016. Terri's work has been translated into five languages, and has sold more than a million copies worldwide. She resides in middle Tennessee with four frisky felines, and two high-maintenance terrier mixes. Learn more about this author and her books at 
Connect with Terri
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Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Review - - Island Queen

Island Queen
by Vanessa Riley
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: July 6, 2021
Reviewed by PJ

Born into slavery on the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat, Doll bought her freedom—and that of her sister and her mother—from her Irish planter father and built a legacy of wealth and power as an entrepreneur, merchant, hotelier, and planter that extended from the marketplaces and sugar plantations of Dominica and Barbados to a glittering luxury hotel in Demerara on the South American continent.

Vanessa Riley’s novel brings Doll to vivid life as she rises above the harsh realities of slavery and colonialism by working the system and leveraging the competing attentions of the men in her life: a restless shipping merchant, Joseph Thomas; a wealthy planter hiding a secret, John Coseveldt Cells; and a roguish naval captain who will later become King William IV of England.

From the bustling port cities of the West Indies to the forbidding drawing rooms of London’s elite, Island Queen is a sweeping epic of an adventurer and a survivor who answered to no one but herself as she rose to power and autonomy against all odds, defying rigid eighteenth-century morality and the oppression of women as well as people of color. It is an unforgettable portrait of a true larger-than-life woman who made her mark on history.

PJ's Thoughts:

Two years ago this month, I was at a romance conference enjoying a late-night slice of cheesecake with a group of authors. One of those authors, Vanessa Riley, began telling us about a woman she had discovered through research - a rich, powerful, strong, complex woman of color; a former slave who had endured the horrors of that life before buying her own freedom - and whose eventual influence stretched from the islands of the Caribbean to the royal halls of London. Riley wanted to tell the story of this woman none of us had ever heard of. Wanted readers of all colors to know who Dorothy (Doll) Kirwan Thomas was, what she endured, what she accomplished, why her life was meaningful, why this woman mattered. I could hear the passion in Riley's voice, her determination to tell this story the right way. I couldn't wait to read it.

I just turned the final page of Island Queen. I'm not sure I have words to do it justice. But Vanessa Riley did. What she has created is nothing short of a masterpiece. This impeccably-researched recreation of an extraordinary life immersed me into Dolly's world, from the terror and bloodshed of a young slave child's first rebellion, to the ninth decade of a life lived to the fullest. Riley held nothing back, giving readers a front-row seat to the uncensored lows and highs of this fascinating and complicated woman's life. By the end of the book, I didn't only know about Doll. I knew her. Riley brought her to life, with all her flaws, strengths, fears, fierceness, and vulnerability. She may not have secured page space in our history books but I would wager that no one who reads Island Queen will ever forget Dorothy Kirwan Thomas. I know I won't. 

This is a long book - almost 600 pages - but the narrative never lost me. I was fully engaged from beginning to end. Not a single sentence or character was extraneous. Each carefully considered word was necessary to do this story justice. 

Be sure to also read the Author's Notes at the end of the book as they are filled with fascinating facts about Riley's research as well as more information about Dolly's children, grandchildren, and other real-life characters in the book. 

Island Queen is one of the best books I've read in 2021. Vanessa Riley did not only fulfill the promise of that story idea she told our group about back in 2019. She far surpassed it. This book has my highest recommendation.

CW: Readers should be aware that some parts of the book involving rape, incest, death, and slavery may be difficult to read but, in my opinion, are necessary to understand the full scope of Dolly's life. 

Monday, July 12, 2021

Tour Review - - Under a Sicilian Sky

Under a Sicilian Sky
by Lisa Hobman
Publisher: Boldwood Books
Release Date: July 8, 2021
Reviewed by PJ

Global box office sensation, Ruby Locke, is a long way from her Yorkshire roots. Together with her fiancĂ©, movie heartthrob Tyler Harrison, they are Hollywood’s new glitterati.

Overnight, however, Ruby’s life implodes when her social media accounts are hacked with a multitude of vile posts, turning her into an international pariah. Even Tyler breaks off their engagement.

Confused and heartbroken, Ruby escapes to the beautiful island of Sicily to avoid the media scrutiny and clear her name. With only a Yorkshire Terrier to comfort her, Ruby is befriended by a handsome neighbour and slowly begins to heal.

But who is this mysterious man and what are his intentions?

When her Sicilian hideaway is compromised, Ruby is once again forced to relocate, this time to the stunning Isle of Skye.

In the tranquil cove of Glentorrin, Ruby is left questioning not only who wants to destroy her career, and why but also if celebrity lifestyle is really for her...

PJ's Thoughts:

Stuck at home dreaming of spending your summer on the golden shores of Sicily? Or, perhaps, tucked up in a cozy cottage on Scotland's Isle of Skye? Lisa Hobman's Under a Sicilian Sky takes you to both places from the comfort of your own living room, with vivid descriptions that left me feeling like I was right there with her characters as they explored both Sicily and Skye.  

This was my first book by Hobman so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. What I discovered was plenty of adventure, a bit of a mystery, slow-burn romance, friendship, substantial character growth, and emotional depth. It took me a while to warm up to Ruby, which is why the second half of the book (in Scotland) was my favorite. By that point in the story, she'd learned some hard lessons, begun to mature, and was beginning to take control of her own destiny. I very much enjoyed the friendships she made on Skye and the female support she received when things started to go sideways. There's also a surprising, and consistent, source of comfort and support that comes from a small group of individuals back in the U.S. I'm being purposely vague to avoid spoilers but I loved those people. I also enjoyed the mystery that's woven throughout the book and the fact that the author was able to keep me on my toes with twists and turns along the way that held some unexpected surprises.

By the end of the book, I was happy with the person Ruby had become, cheered her choices, was confident in the happy future that awaited her both personally and professionally, and even more eager to visit Scotland. 

If you're looking for a summer read that will take you to foreign shores, introduce you to intriguing characters, and enmesh you in a ripped-from-the-headlines mystery that could easily happen to any of us on social media, give Under a Sicilian Sky by Lisa Hobman a try.