Second Chance Romance, The Magic Of Christmas, And So Much More Awaits At The Christmas Cabin.

Title:  The Christmas Cabin
Author:  Michelle Major
Format:  ERC 
Length: 384 pages
Expected Date Of Publication:  October 24, 2023
Publisher:  Canary Street Press
Rating:  4.5 Stars

There’s no place like home for the holidays…

As a girl, single mom Lauren Maxwell hated Magnolia, South Carolina. And she thought she’d left her hometown in the rearview mirror years ago, but a message from her beloved baby brother, Brody, changes all that. He’s getting married on Christmas Eve. So a holiday at Camp Blossom, the rustic sleepaway camp that had been a haven during her growing-up years, it is. Lauren won’t even have to see her dictatorial father. Or her ex-husband, Ben…

When Ben greets her at the surprisingly decrepit cabin, he’s just as stubborn—and as irresistible—as ever. And when she discovers he’s working with her estranged father to buy the campgrounds and rebuild them as luxury housing, Lauren is furious. She won’t let the man who broke her heart win. So she and her daughter stay in town to block the sale.

But the magic of the Christmas season brings back memories Lauren tried so hard to forget: his crooked smile, their daughter’s laughter at the breakfast table, the feel of her hand in his. As the spark between them rekindles, Lauren realizes that second chances are real. And they’re worth fighting for.

Bonus Novella!

A Carolina Song

Country Western singer Walker Calloway thought he was making romantic progress with shy and lovely schoolteacher Meghan Jacobs. After all, he’d written her a love song! But she thought it was for his ex. Now it’s up to him to prove that his heart already belongs to Meghan…for keeps…

Please enjoy this exclusive excerpt from:
The Christmas Cabin

What do a small town. named Magnolia, unchecked sibling rivalry, a teenager with a DUI, a second chance romance, a summer camp named Blossom, and Christmas have in common.
Well nothing... actually!
The fact that they are part of the plot of the newest offering in the Carolina Girls series not withstanding.
That's right.

Book #6 is hot off the presses.
Loaded with more family drama than an all day Dr. Phil marathon.
A second chance romance plot twist so heartfelt that Hallmark should be taking notes.
All tied in the perfect bow of love and forgiveness that only stories set in the Christmas season can provide.

Yes...its true.
The Christmas Cabin is all that and a bag of Christmas cookies.
That is once the oldest two siblings decide to grow up.
The younger brother stops playing the martyr.
Everyone learns to ignore the overbearing ass of a father.
And the teenager with the DUI proves on more than one occasion that she is the most emotionally intelligent person in the room.

This is a quick, if not light read that is sure to touch your heart in the way that dogs that are so ugly they can't help being cute, and surly old grampas do.
With an unmistakable charm and real world honesty that is not to be missed.

Thanks to Negalley and Harlequin for providing the review copy on which this honest critique is based.
This book may be read as a standalone. Though it is the 6th in a continuous series.
This book also contains bonus material.

About Michelle 

Michelle Major grew up in Ohio but dreamed of living in the mountains. Soon after graduating with a degree in Journalism, she pointed her car west and settled in Colorado. Her life and house are filled with one great husband, two beautiful kids, a few furry pets and several well-behaved reptiles. She’s grateful to have found her passion writing stories with happy endings. Michelle loves to hear from her readers at

Andy Carpenter Is Giving The Humbug To Crime In "T'was The Bite Before Christmas"

Title:  T'was The Bite Before Christmas
Author:  David Rosenfelt
Format:  ERC
Pages:  304
Publisher:  Minotaur Books
Rating: 5 Stars 
In National Bestseller David Rosenfelt’s ‘Twas the Bite Before Christmas, all through the Carpenter house, five dogs are stirring, and not even Andy can get out of working this latest case at his door.

Reluctant lawyer Andy Carpenter is at the Tara Foundation’s annual Christmas party. The dog rescue organization has always been his true calling, and this is one holiday tradition he can get behind because every dog that’s come through the rescue—and their families—are invited to celebrate.

This year’s party is no exception. But before the stockings can be hung by the chimney with care, homicide detectives ruin the evening. Derek Moore, one of the foundation’s best foster volunteers, is arrested for murder.

Andy discovers Derek—whose real name is Bobby—is in the witness protection program after giving evidence against his former gang. The police believe Bobby murdered a member. But Bobby swears to Andy he didn’t do this. He’s built a new life, a new business, has two new dogs after being a double foster-failure.

There isn’t much Andy likes about this case, but he likes Bobby. If he’s innocent, Andy wants to help. Before Andy can settle down for his long winter’s nap, he has a client’s name to clear, a murderer to catch, and two new dogs to look after: a golden and a Dalmatian. Andy’s golden retriever, Tara, will have to adjust to not being the only golden at the house while Andy gets to the bottom of this one…

Please enjoy this exclusive excerpt from:
T'was The Bite Before Christmas

I don’t like eggnog, and I dYoubt that anybody really does. It’s too thick and too sweet for my taste . . . like drinking melted chewing gum. I just tried some again anyway and found that sucking some of this batch through a straw requires either a serious pair of lungs or a hydraulic pump; it’s not nearly good enough to justify that amount of work. But the reason I doubt that anyone really likes it is that it’s only popular at Christmas. Good food or drink should not require a holiday to justify consumption. As evidence I point to the fact that there’s no such thing as French Fry Day, or pizza season. Those foods are timeless. I feel the same way about fruitcakes and candied yams; if you like them, eat them all year. Otherwise, I don’t want to hear about them. Right now I am particularly focused on eggnog because I am currently doling it out. It’s Christmas party time at the Tara Foundation, the dog rescue group that I run with my friend Willie Miller and his wife, Sondra. It’s named after my golden retriever, who is so great she should have an entire planet named after her.
My Thoughts
Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas for Andy Carpenter and company. In this the 28th offering from author, David Rosenfelt.
And while it seems that everyone in the Carpenter household, as well as those associated with Andy's beloved Tara Foundation, are up to their eyeballs in seasonal good cheer. He is facing the holiday in usual Andy fashion.

Complete with sardonic wit, a touch of self deprecation, and a dash of pet fur thrown in for good measure.
Until family friend and pet foster turned ower, Derek Moore, finds himself going from serving eggnog at the foundation's holiday shindig. To possibly serving prison time for murder.
Leaving him and his beloved pets Sasha and Jake in need of help that only Andy can provide.

This book has everything.
Witness protection, mobsters, vendettas, murder, plot twists...
And Andy of course.
There is never a dull moment.
Every time you think that you have things figured. something happens to make it very apparent that YOU DON'T.
This book offers that perfect escape into whodunit goodness. With a side of holiday happiness. That is far from the toothache inducing sweetness that is pumped out by the page full around this time of year.

Reviewer's Note
Special thanks to Negalley and St. Martin's Press for providing the review copy on which this honest critique is based.
Though this book is part of a continuous series. It may be read as a standalone.

About David
I am a novelist with 27 dogs.

I have gotten to this dubious position with absolutely no planning, and at no stage in my life could I have predicted it. But here I am.

My childhood was relentlessly normal. The middle of three brothers, loving parents, a middle-class home in Paterson, New Jersey. We played sports, studied sporadically. laughed around the dinner table, and generally had a good time. By comparison, "Ozzie and Harriet's" clan seemed bizarre.

I graduated NYU, then decided to go into the movie business. I was stunningly brilliant at a job interview with my uncle, who was President of United Artists, and was immediately hired. It set me off on a climb up the executive ladder, culminating in my becoming President of Marketing for Tri-Star Pictures. The movie landscape is filled with the movies I buried; for every "Rambo", "The Natural" and "Rocky", there are countless disasters.

I did manage to find the time to marry and have two children, both of whom are doing very well, and fortunately neither have inherited my eccentricities.

A number of years ago, I left the movie marketing business, to the sustained applause of hundreds of disgruntled producers and directors. I decided to try my hand at writing. I wrote and sold a bunch of feature films, none of which ever came close to being actually filmed, and then a bunch of TV movies, some of which actually made it to the small screen. It's safe to say that their impact on the American cultural scene has been minimal.

About fourteen years ago, my wife and I started the Tara Foundation, named in honor of the greatest Golden Retriever the world has ever known. We rescued almost 4,000 dogs, many of them Goldens, and found them loving homes. Our own home quickly became a sanctuary for those dogs that we rescued that were too old or sickly to be wanted by others. They surround me as I write this. It's total lunacy, but it works, and they are a happy, safe group. 

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Upstairs / Downstairs Romance Makes Way For An Unforgettable Forever In "The Duke Starts A Scandal"

Title:  The Duke Starts A Scandal
Series:  The Duke Hunt #4
Author:  Sophie Jordan
Format:  ERC
Length:  352 pages
Expected Date Of Publication:  October 24, 2023
Publisher:  Avon
Rating:  5 Stars

A gentleman never dallies with the help, but the new Duke of Penning is no gentleman in this steamy fourth and final book in The Duke Hunt series by New York Times bestselling author Sophie Jordan.

A duke with secrets.

Lucian, the newly minted Duke of Penning, has much to prove-- to himself, his family and the ton. Craving spotless respectability, he must find an aristocratic wife. Unfortunately, he can't keep his eyes--and thoughts--off his deliciously distracting housekeeper. Such a dalliance can only mar the facade he's constructed to protect his sisters' future from the demons of his past...but this fiery passion is a temptation he cannot resist. While Susanna may not the bride he needs, she is everything he desires.

A woman with a past.

As the housekeeper to one of the grandest estates in England, Susanna Lockhart has worked determinedly to become all that is proper and efficient, and she never steps over the line. Romance is an indulgence for the upper class, not for her--and most especially not with her employer. But every smoldering glance from the surly, handsome duke calls to the long-buried reckless wanton inside Susanna. A love between them can never be, but will Lucian and Susanna risk being together...

Even if it starts a scandal...

Please enjoy the exclusive excerpt from
The Duke Starts A Scandal
It was her own fault, she supposed. She should have known better than to be caught out in the countryside after dark amid a storm. She was no green girl. No untested maid. Susanna Lockhart was the Duke of Penning’s housekeeper, and she held herself higher than such foolish behavior. Susanna minded her steps in the falling darkness. She knew these lands well. Every well-trod path, every pasture, every field of wildflowers was known to her like the back of her hand. Still, in the fast-fading light, one could not be too careful and she had no wish to turn an ankle. The last thing she needed was to be relegated to her bed. How would she serve Penning Hall then? Her boots plodded along cautiously over the ground, for all that she was eager to reach the warmth and safety of the hall. She was envisioning the cozy fire in the kitchens, a bowl of Cook’s heavenly pottage waiting for her, the fragrant steam wafting to her nose as she filled her stomach with the thick, savory broth. Susanna shook her head in disgust. She should have returned hours ago. She had spent far too long in the village. At least the basket she held was now empty and lighter for it. It swung easily looped around her arm. The vicar and Mr. Gupta had been most grateful for the baked goods she brought them today. The Penning cook was renowned in these parts, and Susanna made certain to spread the wealth of her culinary talents to the good people of Shropshire. The storm had rolled in suddenly, darkening the skies prematurely. She should have had another hour of light. The rain started with a few fat drops, landing on her nose, cheek, hair. Then the skies opened in a heavy deluge. She was soaked immediately. Her steps grew labored, the wet, spongy ground sucking at her boots. The familiar path curved and she stopped, breathing heavily, looking down the hill to the grand residence of the Duke of Penning spread out in sprawling splendor below. Lights twinkled in the many windows, beckoning her. Home. It should not have been to a woman of such humble birth, but it was more home to her than the one she left behind so many years ago. Almost there. Dry clothes, a warm fire and a hearty meal are only a short away. She heard the horse and rider before she saw him. The pounding of hooves rang like thunder, rivaling the loud rumblings in the sky. The staccato thuds increased, growing closer. She turned, whirled around just as beast and man rounded the path, straight for her. Her scream was lost in the air, swallowed up by rain and the clap of thunder and the horse’s panicked neigh. She flung up an arm in front of her as though that would stop the violent impact. As though that would shield her—save her from imminent collision. As terror seized her, so, too, did a sense of mortification. Regret coupled with a sense of shame that she should die this way and not in her bed at a ripe old age. Indeed not. Trampled to death. That would be her ignominious end. The horse reared. Hooves clawed the air overhead in a wild frenzy and she fell back, landing hard on the wet ground in her attempt to scramble out of the way. She bit the inside of her cheek and the coppery taste of blood filled her mouth. She turned her face and jammed her eyes tightly shut, recoiling, shrinking inside herself as she waited for the sensation of steel hooves to come down, to cut into her flesh and bones and smash her apart, leaving her broken in the mud. They never came. There was no pain. No breaking of her body. Instead a litany of stinging curses burned her ears and the earth shook as the horse came down near her head, shuddering the ground, spraying her with fresh mud. Near her head, though. Not on her head. A body landed not far with an oompf. A long groan followed. She could not move at first, breathless and stunned, gazing up at the water-soaked night. She pressed a hand over her chest. Her heart felt like it might burst through her rib cage. “What in bloody hell is wrong with you?”The hard voice tore through the storm raging around them. She blinked against the falling rain, sitting up slowly and looking around, finding the rider inches away, unmoving on his back. Her lips parted, moving without making a sound. Her voice was lodged in her throat. In the gloom, she could see very little of his face, but she could hear the heavy huff of his breaths  .  .  . and, of course, his cruelly biting words: “Are you trying to kill yourself, lass? Or just me?”She scowled, finding her voice finally. “You’re talking, aren’t you?”He grunted. “Then you are not dead,”she added succinctly. “No, thanks to you.”With another grunt, he sat up. “It was no easy trick, but I avoided you.”He hauled himself to his feet, his hand going to his side, rubbing at some invisible ache with a hiss of breath. “Even if that meant flinging myself off my horse.”“So heroic,”she tsked, even though she allowed, to herself, at any rate, that it was quite the feat. “You should not have been riding so recklessly,”she charged. “Me? Reckless?”he scoffed with a wide wave of his arm. “What do you call someone strolling about the countryside in the dark in a storm?”Disliking how vulnerable she felt sitting at his feet, she lifted herself up, slipping on the slick ground but managing to catch and balance herself. That was little better. Goodness, he was big. On her feet again, she could see at once that he still towered over her. His shadowed figure moved, cloak whipping around him as he inspected his horse for injuries—all the while grumbling beneath his breath. “This is private property. Who are you?”she demanded. He continued attending to his horse, ignoring her as though she were so very  .  .  . ignorable. “Do you not hear me? This is the Duke of Penning’s estate,”she pressed. “I am certain he would not approve of you tearing about at night on his lands like some, some wild—”He whirled around to face her. Rain fell between them like needles, but he fixed his attention on her, no longer ignoring her. “I am the Duke of Penning.”She hesitated only a moment before letting loose a laugh. “No. You are not.”She knew the duke. She was his housekeeper, after all. “Oh, yes. I am.”He pronounced this with such complete confidence that her laughter faded. A small current of apprehension trembled through her. Then her certainty reasserted itself. The newly minted Duke of Penning and his son had been in residence for months now. This man was lying. He was a liar. He was a lying liar. Doubtlessly he thought she was someone who did not know any better and would not question him on the matter. Her chin went up and she lifted her voice over the increasing pound of rain. “You lie.”“I lie?”He snorted. “Yes. You’re lying  .  .  . a liar,”she added at the end as though she wanted there to be no confusion about it. “I do not know what game you are playing at, sirrah, but the Duke of Penning is down that hill, cozily ensconced in his drawing room.”The stranger took his mount’s reins in hand, and moved then, gingerly. Evidently his tumble had not been the easiest of falls and was not without physical cost to himself. He stopped in front of her and she had to crane her neck to look up at him. In the falling rain, she was granted a shadowy view of his features. Deep-set eyes. Thick, slashing eyebrows. A patrician nose. A wide mouth that now moved, over-enunciating his words as though to encourage her understanding, as though she were somehow slow to comprehend what he was telling her—or perhaps he wished to simply be heard over the storm. “I play no game. I am the Duke of Penning, and I am here to claim what is mine.”He nodded in the direction of the manor house, water streaming from the brim of his hat. “That man down there is a pretender. A fraud  .  .  . cozily ensconced in my drawing room.”She flinched at the echo of her own words hurled back at her, but she forced a mirthless laugh. Nervously. Awkwardly. Shaking her head, she spit out, “No  .  .  .”She could say nothing more than that. It was all she could manage as doubt took hold of her, creeping in and sinking deep. He countered with a simple: “Yes.”Lightning lit the sky, illuminating his face and she gasped. He was handsome. Young. And angry. Very angry. She saw that at once. Recognized it. He continued, “I am the legitimate heir to the dukedom with agents of the estate traveling in a carriage behind me to prove it. That man—”He nodded down the hill to the house. “—is an imposter.”Water glinted in his lashes as he looked her drenched person up and down like she was something unsavory, and in her present state, she was certain she looked it. “And who are you?”“I am  .  .  .”The duke’s housekeeper. Your housekeeper? She gave her head a hard shake. After this bit of awkwardness, she hoped she still was. The corners of his wide lips pulled down in a frown. “Are you unwell? Did you hit your head, lass?”She felt as though she had. She felt as though she had suffered a great blow and didn’t know what to think. For weeks now she had been serving two very nice men who claimed to be the duke and his son and now this rude, ill-tempered man was telling her she had been duped—that he was the true Penning, that he was her employer. With a grunt of disdain, he moved ahead of her, leading his horse back onto the path and in the direction of the hall. “You coming?”he called over his shoulder. Another flash of lightning lit the night sky. With little choice, she picked up her basket and followed him.


My Thoughts
Susanna and Lucian's story is less one of upstairs/downstairs.  With her being the housekeeper.  To his newly minted Duke of Penning.  More upstairs meets downstairs on a midway landing.
As both the maid and the master are trying their best to out live pasts that if discovered would see them each disgraced.

Making matters worse...
There is a very inconvenient attraction that try as they might, both find it hard to ignore.
And as  fate sets about doing its best to see that they spend as much time exploring said attraction as possible.
This book is a different take in plot expression.
Seeing as there is little to no sex for the majority of the story.
Giving both readers and each the other time to come to know the things that endear, entice, and enchant.
A most Herculean task indeed.
Seeing as most of the time.  The two main characters spend most of their time trying to out run their unfortunate pasts and each other.
Lucian coming off as a very lovable and lost lead in the process.
A great help to the legitimization of Susanna and Lucian's relationship comes unexpectedly by way of the discovery of Lucian's sister in the arms of his valet.
By book's end.  Readers are routing for the success of not one, but two romances.
Both built on love, respect, desire, and understanding.

Reviewer's Note
The Duke Starts A Scandal is the fourth and last book in the Duke Hunt series.  As such, it may be read either as a stand-alone or as part of its intended series.
Thanks to Netgalley and Avon Books for providing the review copy on which my honest critique is based.

About Sophie

Sophie JordanSophie Jordan took her adolescent daydreaming one step further and penned her first historical romance in the back of her high school Spanish class. This passion led her to pursue a degree in English and History.

A brief stint in law school taught her that case law was not nearly as interesting as literature - teaching English seemed the natural recourse. After several years teaching high school students to love Antigone, Sophie resigned with the birth of her first child and decided it was time to pursue the long-held dream of writing.

In less than three years, her first book, Once Upon A Wedding Night, a 2006 Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Nominee for Best First Historical, hit book shelves. Her second novel, Too Wicked To Tame, released in March 2007 with a bang, landing on the USA Today Bestseller's List

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'Not That Duke'...Although Well Written...Lacks The Power Of Surprise.

Title:  Not That Duke
Series:  Would-Be Wallflowers #3
Author:  Eloisa James
Format:  ERC
Length:  384 pages
Expected Date Of Publication:  July 25, 2023
Publisher:  Avon
Rating:  3.5 Stars

The Duke of Huntington has no interest in an eccentric redhead who frowns at him over her spectacles…until he realizes that she is the only possible duchess for him. A new enemies-to-lovers romance by New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James.

Bespeckled and freckled, Lady Stella Corsham at least has a dowry that has attracted a crowd of fortune-hunting suitors—which definitely doesn’t include the sinfully handsome Silvester Parnell, Duke of Huntington, who laughingly calls her “Specs” as he chases after elegant rivals.

And then—

The worst happens. Marriage.

To the duke. To a man marrying her for all the wrong reasons.

How can Silvester possibly convince Stella that he’s fallen in love with the quirky woman he married? Especially after she laughingly announces that she’s in love—but not with that duke.

Not with her husband.

Please enjoy the exclusive excerpt from:
Not That Duke.
February 20, 1816 12, Mayfair Place The Duke of Huntington’s townhouse “I’ve found your duchess.”Determination was stamped all over the dowager duchess’s face. “Lady Stella Corsham is perfect for you: the granddaughter of a marquess, with a sizable dowry. Able-bodied, well-bred, and original.”In an act of profound self-control, Silvester Parnell, Duke of Huntington, did not roll his eyes. Or otherwise indicate that in demanding her son marry a version of herself—a short, opinionated woman, albeit with spectacles rather than a monocle—his mother had lost her mind. “‘Original’is not a characteristic that interests me,”he said, instead. His mother’s eyes sharpened. “I suppose you are looking for a girlish nitwit who will entertain ladies for tea and never embarrass her children.”He pretended to think about it. “Does she have to be a nitwit?”“Yes,”the dowager snapped, adding: “Because you want her to swill tea all day long.”When his parents first married, rather than redecorate the ducal country house as did most new duchesses, Her Grace had redesigned the chimney on her husband’s first experimental steam engine. In the years since, she had delighted in flouting society with everything from her clothing (unconventional) to her entertainments (Julius Caesar performed by trained rats was a notable example). Silvester and his sisters had grown up with the full knowledge that “polite”society considered his mother—and by extension, her family—to be eccentric, if not mad. Once sent to Eton, where he routinely engaged in fisticuffs in his parents’defense, Silvester came to the conclusion that although he adored his mother, a less divisive duchess would be preferable. “Do you think I am unaware of how much you and your sisters wish that I would blend into the wallpaper like most of the noodling nobility?”she demanded now. “I am proud of your chimney,”Silvester said, meaning it. His mother’s clack box feed pipe for locomotives had survived four iterations of ducal steam engines and was still in use around the country. “Lady Stella—”Silvester interrupted. “Which doesn’t mean I want to marry Lady Stella.”To be clear, he didn’t mind Stella’s lack of height or her spectacles. Certainly he appreciated her rather glorious bosom. The eccentricity? That he minded. Rumor had it that she’d read the entire Encyclopedia, which explained the fact that their conversations were often startling. And interesting. He liked arguing with Stella; he just didn’t want to marry her. “Want to? Want to?”The dowager pounced like a robin on a worm. “What does want have to do with it? You need a duchess. Lady Stella is suitable.”“My fiancée will be of my choosing, Mother. I would like to be in love with my wife.”She snorted inelegantly. “Romance is a fool’s game, nothing to do with marriage. You’re making a laughingstock of yourself mooning about after Yasmin Régnier.”Fool he may be, but Silvester intended to marry Yasmin. She had charm, hair the color of old ducats, a naughty giggle  .  .  . More than that, he and Yasmin were friends, never mind the fact that he’d love to bed her. He felt the pull of her in his bones, deep in his gut. Perhaps even in his heart. “Moonblind.”The dowager waved her monocle at him. “Lady Yasmin is not for you.”His mother was small in stature, but she made up for it with gargantuan will power. “I intend to ask Yasmin to marry me,”Silvester told her. His mother replaced her monocle and eyed him. “You’d better open the Dower House. Lady Yasmin won’t want to live with me.”A full renovation of the master bedchamber and Dower House at the ducal estate, Huntington Grange, was already in progress. “You will come to love Yasmin,”he said, not at all sure, but it was worth a try. Her Grace snorted again. “Every Season, one woman attracts all the men like seagulls on a gutted fish.”“A lovely metaphor,”Silvester commented. “A lady who tolerates fools will make a dreadful wife.”“Why?”Silvester inquired, though he didn’t really care. “Because she tolerates fools,”his mother repeated. “She has no bollocks!”“No woman has bollocks, as they are male appendages,”Silvester said. “May I point out that Stella has as many suitors as Yasmin?”“Fortune hunters and third sons,”the dowager said contemptuously. “You’d be the only duke. My point is that Lady Stella braves ballrooms in spectacles, although society dictates that ladies should blunder blindly around the dance floor.”“An idiotic rule,”Silvester agreed. “Don’t you see?”his mother demanded. “You need to find a woman who has backbone, not just a woman at the center of a crowd.”His mother was a brilliant tactician. She delivered that line with just the right amount of scorn. If women were allowed to debate in the House of Lords, the opposition would wither. Luckily, he had a lifetime’s worth of experience thwarting her demands. “No,”Silvester stated. From the moment he entered Eton at the age of eight, he had carefully shaped a reputation for easy charm to counter his family’s reputation for eccentricity. That didn’t mean he hadn’t inherited his mother’s steely core. Or his father’s entitled ferocity. “I will never marry Lady Stella.”The best debaters know when to retreat. His mother bounded to her feet and headed for the drawing room door. “You won’t marry Lady Yasmin, either,”she said over her shoulder. He opened his mouth to retort—But she was gone.
My Thoughts
The smart, pudgy, shy, girl might get the guy in this read.  
But the question still remains.
Is he the right one?
You would think that would NOT be an issue.  Given the 'beggers can't be choosers' tone of her family and the people around her.
But choose she does.
The person she chooses is not leading man, Sylvester Parnell, Duke of Huntington.
She instead is carrying quite the bright torch for Giles Renwick, Earl of 
Giles has a thing for one Lady Yasmine Regnier!
But then, EVERY breathing male on two legs seems to have a thing for the beautiful, blonde, willowy, and very French, Lady Yasmin.

While it is true that things in this story would be a lot less complicated if someone had just bothered asking the lady who SHE WANTS.
This is one a Regency Romance.
So no chance of that.
On we go with the confusion and misunderstandings that make this story a story.  And leave readers shaking their heads and looking for the nearest exit.
Because even though Sylvester spends more and more time with Stella.
Is known to be longtime friends, and ONLY friends with Lady Yasmin.
And is doing everything but climb the walls and beat his chest in attention to Stella.
She is still consumed by the belief and fear that he is in love with Yasmin.
Ohhhh kayyy!

This is one of those reads that you want to enter into without having read the previous book.
In fact.
In order to really enjoy this series.
This reviewer suggests that you read the series last book first. 
The reason.
The ends of books #1and #2 give away the pairings of the books to follow.
Self spoilers ahoy!
And one of the major reasons for the 3.5 star rating.
That and the incessant misplaced whining about Yasmine by EVERYONE!

Much to the book's credit, however.
The character development and flair as seen in the devious Lady Lidiya.
The Sylvester's eccentric moth mother.
And even Stella's kitten 'specs'.
Not to mention Lisa James' Stella writing.

Reviewer's Note
Thank you to Netgalley and Avon for  providing the review copy on which this honest critique is based.
Not That Duke is part of a closely related series.  It may be read in any order.

About Eloisa
 New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James writes historical romances for HarperCollins Publishers. Her novels have been published to great acclaim. A reviewer from USA Today wrote of Eloisa's very first book that she "found herself devouring the book like a dieter with a Hershey bar"; later People Magazine raved that "romance writing does not get much better than this." Her novels have repeatedly received starred reviews from Publishers' Weekly and Library Journal and regularly appear on the best-seller lists.

After graduating from Harvard University, Eloisa got an M.Phil. from Oxford University, a Ph.D. from Yale and eventually became a Shakespeare professor, publishing an academic book with Oxford University Press. Currently she is an associate professor and head of the Creative Writing program at Fordham University in New York City. Her "double life" is a source of fascination to the media and her readers. In her professorial guise, she's written a New York Times op-ed defending romance, as well as articles published everywhere from women's magazines such as More to writers' journals such as the Romance Writers' Report.

Eloisa...on her double life:

When I'm not writing novels, I'm a Shakespeare professor. It's rather like having two lives. The other day I bought a delicious pink suit to tape a television segment on romance; I'll never wear that suit to teach in, nor even to give a paper at the Shakespeare Association of America conference. It's like being Superman, with power suits for both lives. Yet the literature professor in me certainly plays into my romances. The Taming of the Duke (April 2006) has obvious Shakespearean resonances, as do many of my novels. I often weave early modern poetry into my work; the same novel might contain bits of Catullus, Shakespeare and anonymous bawdy ballads from the 16th century.

When I rip off my power suit, whether it's academic or romantic, underneath is the rather tired, chocolate-stained sweatshirt of a mom. Just as I use Shakespeare in my romances, I almost always employ my experiences as a mother. When I wrote about a miscarriage in Midnight Pleasures, I used my own fears of premature birth; when the little girl in Fool For Love threw up and threw up, I described my own daughter, who had that unsavory habit for well over her first year of life.

So I'm a writer, a professor, a mother - and a wife. My husband Alessandro is Italian, born in Florence. We spend the lazy summer months with his mother and sister in Italy. It always strikes me as a huge irony that as a romance writer I find myself married to a knight, a cavaliere, as you say in Italian.

One more thing...I'm a friend. I have girlfriends who are writers and girlfriends who are Shakespeare professors. And I have girlfriends who are romance readers. In fact, we have something of a community going on my website. Please stop by and join the conversation on my readers' pages.

Berkley Presents: What The Hex

Title: What The Hex
Author:  Jessica Claire
Date Of Publication:  April 4th, 2023
Length:  336 pages 
Publisher:  Berkley 
Rating:  4 Stars 

Enemies-to-lovers has never been more enchanting in this witchy romantic comedy from the New York Times bestselling author of Go Hex Yourself .

Penny Roundtree wants nothing more than to be a familiar to a witch. She’s been a member of the Society of Familiars ever since she was old enough to join the Fam. There’s just a small problem—no one’s hiring. Witches and warlocks are so long-lived that there are far more familiars available than witches to train them. So when an unorthodox arrangement to apprentice under the table to a forbidden warlock presents itself, she takes it.
Willem Sauer is banned from having a familiar due to past transgressions, thereby limiting his magic-casting abilities. Unfortunately for the surly, Prussian warlock, he has no choice but to work with enthusiastic Penny as a familiar. They immediately clash like dried roan horsehair and honeycomb gathered by moonlight (it’s a terrible spell combination, ask anyone).
Casting spells has delightful perks Penny never could have dreamed of, but also greater dangers. Someone is targeting Penny. Willem and Penny must work together to catch their enemy, and if their ploy requires a little kissing on the side, who is to question the rules of magic?
    Please enjoy this excerpt from 
    What The Hex
 Sir?”I look up from the book in my lap, annoyed that one of the servants has bothered to disturb me in my study. Putting aside the treatise on the casting benefits of various types of dried beetles as spell components, I eye my housekeeper. “Is there a problem?”She gestures feebly toward the front of the house. “It’s happening again.”My annoyance disappears immediately, replaced with surging anger and frustration. I jump to my feet, racing out of my study and down the hall. “Where?”“M-mailbox,”she calls after me. “Dorothy found a dead bird in your mailbox.”I storm out the front door and into the neighborhood. My house is in a little suburban community of other witches and warlocks, because it’s easiest to have neighbors that won’t call the police on me at all hours. I scan my lawn and the driveway. Nothing seems amiss, but the mailbox is hanging open. Biting the inside of my cheek, I manage to keep a bland expression on my face as I stalk toward the curb. One quick glance inside the mailbox shows that Dorothy did not lie. There’s a dead dove inside, nestled atop my mail. That weasel. I knew he’d come after me, especially after I’d just stolen his prized library. It’s an affront that can’t go unrecognized. Still, to frighten my housekeeping staff feels petty. He’s lucky they’re well aware I’m a warlock . . . even if they’re not aware that I’m a stifled one. I pull out the dove, irritated. The breast of the dead bird has been painted with runes, and I’m sure if I opened it up and examined the contents of its stomach, I’d find laurel leaves and a pebble from a hero’s grave. It’s a specific sort of spell that my nemesis is casting, one designed to break my wards and make my house vulnerable to others. This isn’t the first time that my old master Stoker has tried this sort of stunt. Ever since I left his service, he’s tried to have me killed. However, it is the first time he’s cast a curse at my current house. The house I’d had built to my specifications ten years ago, after I’d been forced to move from the last one because Stoker had found me again. He wants to make my life hell. And since I can’t cast to protect myself, the only thing I can do is avoid him. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have stolen his books. Ten years ago, I thought moving would solve my problems. My enemies would no longer have my address, and I’d finish the rest of my probationary period out under the radar. It’s clear that Stoker won’t rest until he finds me, and it doesn’t matter how many times I move. The man’s held a grudge for 250 years. Of course he’s going to attack me while I’m vulnerable. Well, no more. I’m not retreating. I’m done hiding. I made the first move, so I shouldn’t be surprised that he’s retaliating. Still, a dead dove is a little . . . over the top. I take the dead bird inside with me and hand it to the housekeeper, who makes a sound of protest. “Get rid of that.”“But, sir—”“I’ll be in my study.”I head for the bathroom, wash my hands, and then walk back to my study, locking the doors behind me. I want to go down to my laboratory, but I never go when the help staff is here. No one can know about the secret door I’ve had built that leads down to my lab and my trove of stolen spell books. For now, I have to wait. I take a deep breath, thinking through everything I need to get done. New wards around the house—that’s the first priority. An obfuscation spell to hide my address from anyone looking it up online. Each spell will wear me out for at least a week. All of them together and I’ll be out of action for well over a month. Without a familiar to act as my power source, I’ll be forced to rely on my own limited pool of energy. That means everything will take twice as long to cast and will leave me vulnerable. I can’t pay another witch or warlock to do it for me, because they’ve been forbidden to assist in my casting. It’s part of my “punishment.”Only ten more years to go. The thought is a dismal one. Maybe I should start out with scrying, I decide. See what exactly Stoker plans—A loud chirp echoes in the room. My eyes snap open, and I look at the “mailbox”atop the mantel of the fireplace. An envelope is inside, delivered by mystical means. It’s the only way my old master—my other old master, the one that’s not trying to kill me—communicates with me. I stride over toward it and tear the wax seal off the back of the envelope, reading the contents of the letter. Stoker is on the move. Be aware. —Abernathy I crumple it and toss the notice to the ground. “Thanks for nothing, but you’re a bit late.

My Thoughts 
If you are looking for a sweet, light, and oh so magically delicious romance.  Look no further than Jessica Claire's What The Hex.
Leading lady, Penny Roundtree, is a standout character from the word go.
With her bubbly personality, rainbows and unicorns packaging, and go-getter approach to life.  Is it any wonder that she would do anything other than to turn the otherwise staid and colorless life of exiled warlock, Willem Sauer, upside down?

The fun of this book is found in the secrets tha the two main characters are forced to keep.
And the questions that those secrets force others and them to both ask and answer. 

Are they friends?
Can they be lovers?
Will they ever be free of the ever present threat of Willem's old Master?
Will Willem ever be able to clear his name?
...and so much more. 

Seeing the evolution of Willem as a character as he and Penny grow closer.
So sweet.
And the sex!!!
The incorporation of the FAM, and all of the color and intrigue provided by the supporting cast.
Just fabulous...
And the right amount of funny to boot.

What The Hex is the second book in the Hex series.  But it could make a great first forey into wonderful Spring romance reading for all the magically inclined lovers of love.

Thanks to Netgalley and Berkley Books for providing the review copy upon which this honest review is based. 

This is a pen name for Jill Myles.

Jill Myles has been an incurable romantic since childhood. She reads all the 'naughty parts' of books first, looks for a dirty joke in just about everything, and thinks to this day that the Little House on the Prairie books should have been steamier.

After devouring hundreds of paperback romances, mythology books, and archaeological tomes, she decided to write a few books of her own - stories with a wild adventure, sharp banter, and lots of super-sexy situations. She prefers her heroes alpha and half-dressed, her heroines witty, and she loves nothing more than watching them overcome adversity to fall into bed together.

Buy The Book

Berkley Presents: Smolder

Title:  Smolder 
Series:  Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter #29
Author:  Laurell K. Hamilton 
Date Of Publication:  March 21st, 2023
Length:  496 pages
Publisher:  Berkley Books 
Rating:  5 Stars
The wedding of the century between vampire hunter Anita Blake and the vampire king of America Jean-Claude is almost here, but an ancient evil arrives in St. Louis and even Jean-Claude’s unmatched power isn’t enough to save them. Only with the return of a lost love can they hope to combat the monster and save their loved ones and every vampire in the country from being consumed by darkness.

Please enjoy this excerpt from 
EDWARD STOOD IN front of the half circle of mirrors getting fitted for the wedding clothes he’d be wearing as best man in my wedding. I’d been his best man/ person less than a year ago, so turnabout was fair play. He was even hating the clothes almost as much as I hated the formal-length dress that his bride had forced me to wear at the last moment when I thought I’d get away with a tux like the men. Now it was his turn to think he’d get to wear a tux and find out he was half right. Since I was marrying someone who either designed or helped design most of his own clothes, Jean-Claude had ideas for spicing up the traditional boring clothes that most modern men wore. Normally his fashion sense wouldn’t have bothered Edward, who had a very traditional style, but now as he glared at himself in the mirror he was bothered, very bothered. “You have got to be kidding me,”he said. His blue eyes were already starting to turn pale like winter skies, which usually meant he was about to kill something, or that he wanted to kill something. Peter, his very grown-up son, and I sat in little chairs that were usually reserved for mothers of the bride, or other members of the female side of the wedding, because men didn’t have to come to the designer wedding couture side—ever. Edward was my bestest friend, but I grinned at him, because I was enjoying the men getting outfitted in something they hated so much more than any normal tux. “You look great,”I said, smiling, and that at least was true, unlike me in every bridesmaid dress I’d ever been forced to wear. He looked to Peter for a different opinion. “This is ridiculous.”He spread his arms out to his sides so that Peter could get the full effect of the black leather and cloth tailcoat with its high, stiff collar that framed about half Edward’s head. His blond hair looked brighter yellow than I’d ever seen it, maybe it was the black leather framing it? Or maybe it was his desert tan, which wasn’t tanned by most standards, but it was the most color I’d ever seen on Edward’s skin. “Except for the collar, the jacket looks great on you, and the collar isn’t bad, it’s just”—Peter made a waffling motion with his hand—“it’s odd, like it shouldn’t be there, but I really like the leather over the shoulders, and the scalloped leather over the forearm looks like a leather bracer from armor. It’s really cool, Ted.”Peter’s desert tan was a lot darker than Edward’s; technically they were stepson and stepfather, but for them it wasn’t about genetics, it was about love. Edward’s glare softened a little and turned back to the mirrors. He took a visible deep breath and let it out slowly as if he were counting to ten. He pulled on the edges of the jacket as if it needed to be settled in place, but it fit him perfectly; the little bump of the tails on the coat actually drew the eyes to his ass, and since we had never ever been anything but friends I didn’t usually notice Edward’s body like that. I’d thought of tailcoats as old-fashioned until I saw the first of our wedding party in them and realized that they actually accentuated everyone’s booty a lot more than modern jackets did. “Why do I hate this so much, besides the stand-up collar?”he asked. “Maybe it’s just so different from your usual cowboy–U.S. Marshal aesthetic?”Peter suggested. I looked at Edward, and finally said, “It’s the most fitted thing I’ve seen you in since you slimmed down for your wedding. You look slender, more . . . delicate almost, and in all the years we’ve been friends, delicate has never been a word I used for you.”He nodded at himself in the mirror. “That’s what it is, I look smaller even to me.”“You’re in the fiercest shape I’ve ever seen you in, unless you’ve put on weight since I saw you at the pool during the wedding trip. You’re all muscle. Hell, Ed”—and I had to stop and force myself to say, “Ted, I didn’t even know you had a six-pack under there until that weekend.”“I hadn’t. Not since I was in the military twenty years ago, so never since you’ve known me.”“All the moms and most of the daughters at martial arts class think I have the hottest dad and that includes the male instructors.”Peter said it with a touch of pride, unlike some twenty-year-old sons who would have felt competitive with their fathers. Of course, Edward had never been competitive with Peter either. “High praise, I take it, since I haven’t seen your instructors,”I said. Peter grinned. “Yep.”“Since you’re one of the instructors now, very high praise,”Edward said, and he smiled at his son with a pride that I never thought I’d ever see in his eyes for anyone. When we first met, Edward and I had both been so alone, and neither of us had ever expected that to change. Now here we were, both of us happier than I’d ever seen us. Sometimes life was good. Peter looked embarrassed but pleased. “Why didn’t you tell me you’d made instructor, Peter? Congratulations.”“It’s just part time.”“But you’re still in college, so part time is all you can really do,”I said. “There’s really not a lot of money in owning a good martial arts school, and instructors make less. You have to be a belt factory or offer kickboxing as a fitness class or something sell-out like that to earn enough money to pay full-time staff, full-time wages,”Peter said. “You talked to Bill like I suggested,”Edward said. “Bill owns the school,”Peter explained to me, “and yes, I talked to him. I’d need another job that paid better if I wanted to be full-time at the dojo.”He made quote marks with his fingers when he said full-time. “How’s the double major going?”I asked. “I’m really enjoying Preternatural Primates this semester. I never knew how many species of trolls there were, and did you hear new DNA testing split the Yeti into three species instead of just the two?”“Really? I hadn’t heard about that.”“I can send you the link to the article our prof shared with us.”“Please,”I said. “But now I want to see some of the trolls we have in this country in person.”“I’ve seen the Lesser Smoky Mountain Trolls.”I almost added that I knew someone who had their doctorate on the trolls, but the person in question was my ex, Richard Zeeman, and the last time Peter had seen him, someone we both knew had died. Today was a good day; we didn’t need to rake up horrible memories and ruin it. “Really, when?”“They’re indigenous to the area of Tennessee where one of my mentors lives. I don’t remember if I’ve talked to you about Marianne.”“The witch who helped you learn to control your magic, right?”“Yeah, I guess I did talk about her.”He shook his head. “Nathaniel told me after the trip when he went with you and Micah to try and learn how the magical energy worked between the three of you.”I knew that Nathaniel talked to Peter even more than I did, and Marianne was out of the broom closet as a witch, so I guess it was okay that Nathaniel shared. Besides . . . I looked at his eager face so happy in college, learning new things that he’d call up to share, and realized that I trusted Peter. He knew how to keep secret whatever needed kept. “Your face went all serious, Anita, what are you thinking about?”he asked. I smiled. “My first thought was that what Nathaniel had shared could get Marianne in trouble, and then I realized that I trusted you. Trusted your judgment, trusted you to keep secret what needs keeping.”He smiled at me like I’d said something wonderful; maybe I had, but it was one of the best smiles I’d seen on his face since he got to watch his parents walk down the aisle together. “Thanks, Anita, that means a lot.”“You’ve earned it, Peter.”“He’s starting to like his biology classes better than his criminal justice ones,”Edward said, still tugging at the perfectly tailored coat. “Are you still fast-tracked for preternatural law enforcement, or did the trolls lure you to the biology side?”“I still want to be a preternatural marshal like you and Ted, but I failed my blood test for lycanthropy so they’re letting me stay in the program, but they aren’t sure about my future in it.”“I’m sorry, Peter, really,”I said, and patted his arm. “It’s not your fault, Anita.”“You got hurt protecting me.”“If I hadn’t been there the weretiger would have killed you. I don’t regret what I did, and you shouldn’t either.”I looked at that calm, wise face, and thought, When did he get so grown-up? “I’ll do my best to be all healthy and therapy-evolved, but I am sorry that you popping hot on the test is keeping you out of the military and law enforcement.”“I don’t shift, and my test is undetermined just like Ted’s.”“And it’s my fault both times.”“I’m still a marshal, and that you and I got to keep our badges sets a good precedent for Peter to get into law enforcement.”“True, but if it’s my blood getting all up in your wounds when we were both cut up by wereanimals, why don’t both of you show full-blown Therianthropy at least on the test? I mean I don’t change form either, but my test always comes back listing every type of Therianthropy I have inside me.”“The doctors don’t know,”Ted said. “They were interested in the fact that both Ted and I test the same because we were father and son and they thought they had a theory, until they found out we’re not genetically related.”“I went in with Peter last time so the doctors could talk to us together.”“And draw more blood,”Peter said. Edward nodded. “And draw more blood.”“Dr. Lillian wants to draw more blood tomorrow from both of you and from me so she can compare it. Sorry.”“No, we came here to figure out what’s happening to us,”Edward said, then tugged on the jacket as if it didn’t fit right, but I’d never seen him in a piece of clothing that fit him better and that included the tux he’d worn for his own wedding. “And to try on beautiful wedding clothes,”I said, smiling. The seamstress rejoined us then; she had the pants that were supposed to go with the jacket instead of the temporary ones that she’d forced Edward into so she could see how the jacket fit. The pants were black leather. “You are so going to owe me for this,”Edward said. “One, I’ve seen you wear leather for undercover work before. Two, I wore a formal-length dress on a beach with bedazzled flip-flops for your wedding.”“That was not this bad,”he said, motioning at the pants that the patient woman was holding up for him. “I tried on dresses that were so low that I flashed an entire bridal store when I tripped over the hem.”He grinned, then shook his head. “Okay, that’s fair.”“If I said I’m sorry I missed you trying on dresses, would you be mad?”Peter asked. “Yes,”I said, firmly. He and Edward both laughed. I tried to hold out, but I finally gave in, and we laughed until Edward had to go into the changing room and get into the freshly hemmed leather

My Thoughts 
Oh my dearest Laurell...
How I love you and your uber-complex plots.
With title 29 in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series; offering nothing less than sheer supernatural delight.
Staring the delectable Jean-Claude, Asher, a much more alpha Nathaniel, Angel, Devil, and even the return of Richard.
Although I must admit that the absence of Micah is much felt this go round.
Marriage for Anita.

Can't wait for that.

Although the peek at her past that this read offers is just as off putting  as the time that we got to go home with Jason.
It looks as though this read and it's eons old demigod baddie are going to carry over into the following book.
That is worth a serious
... Yay!
This book really let us see the relationship dynamics of Anita's life.  And how the "sliding doors" effect of her polyamory has its good and not so good aspects.
It seems that everyone as done a great deal of evolving.
None to a more attractive degree than Nathaniel.
Oohh la la...
Richard, I can't say that I trust yet.
Although there is a part of me that really really wants to.
Oh well...
I guess we'll just have to wait for Slay, to see how what was so deliciously started in Smolder, plays out.

Reviewer's Note 
Thanks to Netgalley and Berkley Books for providing the review copy upon which this honest review is based. 
Smolder is the 29th book in an interrelated series. It is recommended be read consecutively.  To maintain continuity. 

About Laurell

Laurell K. Hamilton is one of the leading writers of paranormal fiction. A #1 New York Times bestselling author, Hamilton writes the popular Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novels and the Meredith Gentry series. She is also the creator of a bestselling comic book series based on her Anita Blake novels and published by Marvel Comics. Hamilton is a full-time writer and lives in the suburbs of St. Louis with her family.
See Her Socially:  WebGR / TwitterFacebook

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