#Featured

Breathless by Sarah Sanders

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Short, sweet and sexy – we loved this book. Lara is a movie star whose career has crashed and burnt. She is in the throes o...

Heart of Ice by T. B. Markinson and Miranda Macleod

⭐⭐⭐⭐☆

Laurie Emerson is codenamed Laurie the Hatchet in the world of finance for her notorious ruthlessness. Laurie and her wife Bonnie were co-founders of one of the topmost financial advisory firms and their shared office was called the Shark Tank. When Bonnie's tumour was diagnosed with inoperable, she booked Laurie for a year in a high-end resort and handed the reins of the company to her son, Toby.


Laurie returns a little under a year during which the company has been nosediving under mismanagement. But Laurie has a lead that could completely turn the company around and make it a top player again. The lead is inside information that Silvio Othonos, an elusive Greek billionaire, is looking for a firm to manage his investments. Laurie's vigour is roadblocked by Toby who has jetted off across the Atlantic trying to jump the gun and meet with Othonos without a plan in place.


Undeterred, Laurie decides to make a team out of the available resources and create a solid proposal for the billionaire.


Jacqueline (Jack) Kennedy is a hardworking portfolio manager with Emersons. As a woman in a man's world she is overlooked and on the receiving end of entitled masculine behaviour. Not being an Ivy Leaguer also puts her on something of a back foot. Having joined after Laurie had left for her sabbatical, Jack knows Laurie only by reputation. So, when she is the only portfolio manager on the floor and becomes part of Laurie's team, she's quite pleased and is looking forward to the meeting the next day.


A snowed in evening, an Irish pub, a hot woman and amazing sex -- only to realise that the hot woman of the previous evening was Laurie / Jack i.e. boss / subordinate. Both decide to forget their evening together and keep it professional. Except that the chemistry keeps boiling over throwing emotions all over the map.


Laurie and Jack are superbly crafted characters. Laurie does keep slipping into being a version of Miranda Priestly but is also not Miranda Priestly often enough. Come to think of it, such fluctuations would actually leave a person with whiplash. But Jack works with her mercurial boss with fortitude. Realistically, Jack does have misgivings about working with Laurie and her impossible behaviour. 


Though older than Jack by 20 years, Laurie is clearly the immature one between the two. Jack is never without spine. Yes, Laurie is demanding and impossible but Jack never comes across as a doormat or pushover.


Jack's kooky mother and her story is a smile inducing twist.


The chemistry between Jack and Laurie is fantastic. And the grand-gesture love confession is perfect for die-hard romantics. 


The book captures you from the very start and keeps you totally engrossed for its entirety. Markinson and Macleod are a winning combination. Their collaboration brings to us the most romantic and adorable book.


Definitely recommended.

⭐⭐⭐⭐☆

Everything We Never Wanted by Sienna Waters


⭐⭐⭐☆★

Alex Blakely has wanderlust. All she wants to do is travel, do small jobs whenever she needs the money while travelling and then travel some more. But suddenly her life changes and she becomes responsible for a sweet seven-year-old, Libby. Libby is Alex’s niece and though Alex and her sister, Claire, weren’t exactly close, Alex is Libby’s only living relative.

 Kat Stein is an elementary school teacher in charge of the second grade. She is passionate about teaching. All Kat ever really wanted was a wife, a child, a stable home and to teach. She had it all till a year ago when her wife divorced her accusing Kat of being ‘boring’ and Kat lost everything including her home. The only thing that she still has is her teaching. With dire financial straits, it seems like Kat may need to rethink even her beloved job.

The two diametrically opposite personalities somehow mesh together perfectly till things need to get more real.

Waters does a fabulous job creating the circumstances of Alex and Kat in the beginning. You feel them totally. You get their mindspace perfectly. Alex’s character arc through the story is extremely well done.

We liked Kat instantaneously and felt very strongly for her and have a huge problem with her being branded ‘boring’ repeatedly, especially way too often by herself. Even the ways she tries to ‘change’ herself makes you feel rather sad. We also thought she was a little too giving and forgiving – which can actually be explained by her very low self-esteem.

The relationship between the MCs is surprising in the sense the emotional connect is there but the chemistry is tepid.

 This is a fairly quick, okay read.

⭐⭐⭐☆★

Two Hexes Are Better Than One: A Lesbian Cozy Mystery by Zoe Spell

⭐⭐⭐


Review-lite
…because…

  • This is nice, as in the not-too-exciting but inoffensive and unmemorable meaning of the descriptor: nice
  • Has a very strong start i.e. good creating of the crime and the accused
  • Plus: plenty of red herrings
  • Minus: Inexplicable behaviours and unexplained events
  • Plus: Waiting-to-grow attraction between MC Rowena and her high school crush, Noelle, that promises to become more interesting as the series continues
  • Minus: Tension of solving a murder distinctly missing
  • Plus: Interestingly developed characters: Rowena, Evelyn and Debbie (the most interesting of the three)
  • Minus: Doesn’t grab interest and hold you there

⭐⭐⭐

Double Life: The Intern Book 1 by Scarlett Grace

⭐☆


Review-lite
…because this one is a breadcrumb

  • A teaser book for a more complete later release…ergo, incomplete
  • Reads like something you’d find on one of the many amateur fiction sites in terms of plot and characterisation



⭐☆

Bet Against Me by Fiona Riley

⭐⭐⭐⭐☆

Who knew that the world of luxury realty was so intensely competitive?

Trina Lee is a rockstar realtor who outperforms all others in the industry and has developed a reputation of being cutthroat and ruthless. She’s been featured in a magazine’s list of 30 under 30 and as the cherry on top of her cake of a great year professionally, she’s a hairsbreadth from winning the coveted Realtor of the Year award. Except that she’s pipped to the post by a Jane-come-yesterday, Kendall Yates. The two work in rival companies and there’s no love lost between their bosses. Post the award presentation, as Trina is attacking Kendall with all she’s got and Kendall is pulling no punches in trading insult with insult, their bosses come up with a ‘friendly’ (but not really) competition between their star performers – to outsell the other in one particular upcoming development.

Trina and Kendall get down to it, never missing an opportunity to bring out those deadly claws and sharp tongues to deliver scathing insults. But that much passion spills into unexpected channels and their whole relationship does a 180 degree.

Trina Lee is one livewire of a character. Sassy, sarcastic, sharp and competitive, she is also borderline arrogant and cocky but tempered down with her sweetness and loyalty right from the beginning. Though she comes across as the more abrasive and antagonistic of the two initially, her character is so well rounded by her other relationships that she is never dislikeable. Kendall has a past that she’s trying to outpace. She cuts a more sympathetic figure at start. Also she’s not the one itching to fight all the time. However, Riley does a great job of making both women equally appealing. More to her credit, Riley somehow manages to give a flavour of I-like-her-therefore-I’ll-pull-her-pigtails-to-get-her-attention to the whole animosity.

The chemistry between the two leads is sizzling. And par for the course, as with all Riley’s books, the heat-o-meter is set at burn. The book has a great balance between romance and sex.

We sorely missed an epilogue in this one. We’re sure that Trina and Kendall will be happy together for life, but we’d have definitely liked to know what Kendall does professionally and how she fares after all the evil-dad-interfering-in-her-life drama. (BTW, this dad-villain bit added to the rather farfetched premise makes this one more a romcom than a contemporary romance. But in no way does it detract from the fact this is a hugely entertaining book with great chemistry and amazingly good sex).


Definitely recommended.

⭐⭐⭐⭐☆

What Happened in Vegas? By Claire Highton-Stevenson

⭐⭐⭐⭐

This one is a super-cute romcom that made us want our life to be a romcom too – especially since the dedication of the book is: For everyone trying. You will get there.

Molly Day, a coffee chop owner in LA, is sent off on a holiday by her staff because she’s working too hard. She also recently found her partner cheating on her – so the need to recharge and regroup is rather high. But instead of a relaxing beach, Molly goes to Vegas for a week and decides to embrace whatever Sin City throws her way. And what Sin City throws her way si super-hot Anna Garcia, a location hunter with one of the Hollywood dream makers. There is a instant spark, and well, it is Sin City best known for marriages-by-mistake – which is exactly where Molly and Anna find themselves after 12 hours of fun, drinks and sex --- so much sex. Naturally, they decide to get the marriage annulled but discover thatthey need a divorce, not just an annulment. Molly actually considers staying married, but Anna, carrying some baggage of a past relationship that went right up to a marriage license (but not further) and of her extremely Catholic mom freaks and disappears on Molly.

But they’re both in LA and though difficult, it’s not impossible to find the other. Which is how Anna finds her ‘wife’ with a proposal of giving it a go. But Molly is having none of it.

Molly Day is an instantly appealing character. Cocky Anna grows on you as the story progresses. The chemistry between them is good and the sexy times are beyond good. There is lots and lots of sex, but the book doesn’t spillover into erotica because there is plenty of drama also going on. Plus plenty of romance and enough of angsty conflict before the happy ending. A complete romcom package, this.

This book is light, fluffy and very entertaining.


(Note that despite the subhead labelling it a second chances romance, this is a first try contemporary romance…ummm…romcom).

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Wrong Number, Right Woman by Jae

⭐⭐⭐⭐


This one is the ultimate fantasy and wish-fulfilment of all shy, socially awkward, overweight lesbians (including us).

Shy, sweet and awkward Denny works in a grocery store and has her sister, Salem, and tween niece, Bella, living with her. Thirteen years her junior, their parents kicked Salem out when she got pregnant at seventeen and Denny became Salem’s safe port and also something of a defacto parent to Bella.

One evening, fashion-challenged Denny receives a message from an unknown woman asking first-date outfit advise. Turns out that the unknown woman had a wrong number but the texts continue. Enough to become a highlight for both, Denny and Eliza.

Their connection deepens and their relationship slowly moves from texts to calls to actual in-person meetings.

We absolutely love toaster-oven romances. We are suckers for the ‘gay for you’ trope. We adore assertive femmes. We like slow burn. We are all for sizzling chemistry. And this one checks all these boxes.

We love the way Eliza takes the time and interest to understand Denny even when they’re just texting. That, right there is one fantasy. We love that Eliza takes the time to understand herself and then gathers her courage to make herself vulnerable to Denny. Fantasy two. We love that Eliza is sure enough about her feeling to be open about her relationship with Denny to her family. Fantasy three.

There is some mess with the timeline in the narrative in the sense the period of time Eliza and Dennt have been texting; how long since they've known each other; how long since they spoke or met -- it's all a little wonky but not detrimental.

Our only real issue with this book is the butch-femme binary. We are so not fans off that. It’s not like we want two femmes. But we do like chapstick lesbians, people on the spectrum, more female-presenting women much more than the suit-and-tie wearing, male-presenting butches. Somehow the butch rather puts us off. But we seem to be in some sort of a minority about this.

Despite our reservations, this is a wonderful romance with a fabulous leading lady in Eliza.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Forever and a Day: a Those Who Wait story by Haley Cass

⭐⭐⭐⭐


Do you ever revisit characters from books you’ve enjoyed and imagined how their lived turned out? Bet you do that. Looks like Cass also felt that about Sutton Spencer (heart eyes) and Charlotte Thompson, the leading ladies in Those Who Wait.

This novella is essentially a long epilogue about the couple, their lives and their relationship post the halcyon romance. There are pit stops for all important moments which give a complete picture about their day-to-day interactions and about how their relationship is unfolding. Also about their extended families and career trajectories.

We love that Cass keeps their core characterisations intact and builds them further. This is the perfect future that we wanted for this pair and are quite delighted with having read this.


Definitely not a standalone novella – you absolutely need to read the fabulous Those Who Wait before reading this.
⭐⭐⭐⭐

Relevé by Max Ellendale


⭐⭐⭐☆★


Maya, a cop with the Seattle PD, returns home from a three month long undercover operation and finds that she is homeless thanks to having trusted and depended on her careless father. Emotionally raw from the operation, Maya is at her lowest, skulking in an alley as she tries to grapple with the splinters of her life when she sees Vivian. They exchange a few words and turns out that Vivian teaches dance in the studio behind which Maya has taken refuge. After Vivian returns inside, Maya lays down right there and ends up napping. She’s woken by Vivian who offers her food, shelter and a phone, which Maya uses to call her cousin, Nora.

When Maya regains her life a couple of days later, she visits the lovely lady and a closeness develops between them. However, Maya is besieged by nightmares of her time undercover and cannot share her secrets with Vivian, though they are getting more and more into each other.

Ellendale writes these amazing women who are loving, caring, nurturing, mature, knock-out beautiful and burning hot. Vivian is that in this book and it is impossible to not fall into her. This character is typically offset by a troubled, rather broken counterpart. The troubled character can be an uncertain factor. We’ve loved some of them and hated others with a passion. In this, obviously, Maya is the troubled soul. However, she is not dislikeable (thank god) – with the single exception for her secret keeping from Vivian. Also, Maya doesn’t seem very strong. Given her childhood and her recent undercover experience, this can be justified but it felt like others were constantly fighting her battles for her and basically wrapping her in cotton wool. Clearly, we loved Vivian and don’t think Maya measures up…but okay. There are plenty sweet moments and loving words to warm our romantic hearts and make us okay with this couple.

The third constant in Ellendale’s books is a very strong, very loving support system (usually peopled with crossover characters from her other works). That, in fact, is one of the loveliest fictional worlds she writes – that whole big (and constantly growing) family of choice.

And this above all – the sex. Hot. Lots. Awesome.

Though an average book by the yardstick established by this author, Ellendale is inarguably an excellent author, which makes this one very readable.

⭐⭐⭐☆★

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power, Narrated by Lauren Ezzo (Audiobook)

⭐⭐⭐⭐


Review-Lite
because...Speechless!

  • Good Lord!
  • That whole dysfunctional co-dependence between the mother and daughter! Can’t even begin naming all the emotions that gave rise to.
  • Disturbing.
  • Intense.
  • Intensely disturbing.
  • Disturbingly intense.
  • Awesome narration by Lauren Ezzo

⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue, Narrated by Emma Lowe (Audiobook)

⭐⭐⭐⭐☆


Review-Lite
because...Language is leaving me in silence…

  • Brilliant writing
  • Eerie similarities between the end-of-war flu of 1918 and the coronavirus pandemic of 2020
  • Troubling, touching, enraging and surprisingly tender
  • Donoghue has a gift of building such strong environment that you can feel every single thing she describes – from physical, tangible things to every emotion experienced by every person in the cast. You can feel the blood, sweat tears, heat, stifling airless room, frustrations, fears, pain...
  • Will women ever get equality?
  • Amazing audio performance by Emma Lowe
  • Can actually feel the stifling atmosphere outside the room, inside the ward and in the whole culture of female oppression
  • Heavy and intense
⭐⭐⭐⭐☆

Following Chance by Baxter Brown

⭐⭐☆

As college students, Kate Connors, a law student in a college in small town Renfrew met Lauren Dawson, a sociology student and wife of Kate’s classmate, Drew. Despite the fact Lauren was married, Kate and Lauren had an intense passionate affair. Which ended badly. Gathering pieces of her broken heart Kate left Renfrew for the city.

Fifteen years later, Kate is back in Renfrew as a librarian, with a 10-year-old daughter, Jack, in tow. Kate had felt burnt out and had also felt that she was unable to give Jack enough attention. Having saved enough money, Kate is back in a smaller town to slow down their pace of life.

The first person Kate meets in Renfrew is 10-year-old Abbie, immediately followed by Abbie’s mom, Lauren. As luck has it, the two girls become the best of friends and it is impossible for the two women to not interact.

About 97% of the book has Lauren chasing Kate making herself vulnerable – in the past and in the present – and Kate brushing her off, pushing her away and rejecting her with varying degrees of coldness, rudeness and plain nastiness. As a result, there is no real chemistry between the two.

Lauren is special. She is filled to the brim with every characteristic we like, garnished with a great sense of humour. In fact, this is the first time we’ve actually envied a pen person. We were intensely jealous of Kate especially since there is absolutely nothing to like (much less, love) about her. Even when she’s supposedly smooth and charming, she comes across as just an ass.

We cannot imagine what sort emotion (love or guilt?) Lauren feels and carries to keep her faith, self-esteem and hope for one year after Kate returns and rejects her on a daily basis. Kate takes pains to be horrible to the woman she is supposed to have this great, unexpressed love for, namely  Lauren, who is now divorced and unfailingly nice, warm, loving, mature, flirtatious and openly expressing her feelings for Kate. The chip on her shoulder that Kate has is more of a forest than just a chip.

This one just wasn’t for us.


About the rating:  Since Lauren is a 5 for us and Kate a zero, we’re averaging the overall rating for this one to 2.5.

⭐⭐☆

Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #2) by Tamsyn Muir, Performed by Moira Quirk (Audiobook)

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

You think: WTF did I just read (okay, listen to)?

And: I can’t wait to take that trip again.

And: When is the next book due?

And: I adore Harrow.

And: I adore Gideon.

And: OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG!

Repeat.

This is a mindbending, mindblowing rollercoaster of a book that makes you think you’re in the midst of a fevered dream. Just when you think you’ve got into the groove and can maybe think about what could happen, there is a sharp turn and you’re hurtled down a path you didn’t even know was there. And then you’re in another fevered dream – albeit not as mind-scrambling as the first fevered dream, but a fevered dream all the same.

Synopsis? Here it is (using a quote from the book because that’s the best way to encapsulate it): Do not fucking ask me for information. I could not be more lost right now.  

And: I was not following all of this, because necromantic theory is a lot of hot bullshit even when I'm not busy having Complex Emotions.

In an interview with Three Crows Magazine, Muir said about Harrow the Ninth:

“In many ways it is a book where I am not kind to the reader — it is one long puzzle, told out of order, and two stories running alongside each other, and Gideon the Ninth has very little bearing on it — but it is very much for anyone who came out of Gideon having a soft spot for Harrowhark Nonagesimus. It’s a book that is very frank about mental illness, trauma and grief. It is also a book with an extended makeover scene and some awful set-pieces involving dinner parties.”

Non-linear narrative: Check

Two parallel stories: Check

Frank about mental illness, trauma and grief: Check

Came out of Gideon having a soft spot or Harrowhark Nonagesimus: Check (multiple times check against this one)

Muir is all sorts of brilliant. Rich imagination, masterful narration, fantastic multi-dimensional characters, an amazing command over the language, inventive expression, crazy great sense of humour, unpredictable plot – we can rhapsodise about her for light years.

We had loved Gideon the Ninth. It was (and is) undoubtedly a masterpiece. We thought that Gideon was a pinnacle of masterpiece-ery and hoped fervently that Harrowhark would get an equally good book. Given how brilliant Gideon is, we prepared ourselves for disappointment. But Harrow the Ninth surpasses Gideon with psychedelic gorgeousness and depth and darkness and excitement and jolts of adrenalin.

We are awestruck by the delicacy with which Muir builds the dimensions and depth of Harrow and Gideon. Even more awestruck by the gentle beauty with which she writes about love amidst all the mad action. In fact that last third of the book is as much about love as about the action-packed climatic drama. By the end, we came out of this experience only feeling the love.

Moira Quirk gives an astounding performance. Her talent in voice performance matches Muir’s gift as an author, that is: she is devastatingly brilliant.

This series is absolutely unmissable.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Foxy Lady: A Fur-ever Veterinary Romance by Cara Malone


⭐⭐⭐☆

This book is a sweet, angst-free read filled with characters who are high on instant-appeal quotient.

Adelaide (Addie) Mercer is a single mom with an energetic eight-year old son, Liam. After a bad relationship and its subsequent demise, Addie moves to Camden since it offers her a job with a salary and hours that meet her requirements. Addie’s yard abuts that of the house behind hers which seems to be unoccupied. Except that suddenly some sort of cage-type building starts there and seems to happen only when she is not at home, given that neither Addie nor Liam finding anyone working on the intriguing structure which Liam is convinced is for a bear.

Sydney (Syd) Young is a vet working with WOW, an organisation that recues and rehabilitates wildlife. She is on call 24x7 and has no semblance of a life outside work or anything possibly approaching regular hours. Not that she is complaining because she loves her work. When she is called by a lady who wants to surrender a fennec fox, Sonic, that her son unthinkingly bought, she knows finding a home for the fox is going to be difficult. Syd falls in love with the fox and decides to be his permanent home herself. But before getting him home, she got to build his home in her yard.

When Sonic arrives, Liam and Addie waste little time in going over to see exactly what animal occupies the structure that had them guessing for so long. Crackling electricity between Addie and Syd sparks off on sight.

Every single person (and animal) in this one are instantly appealing. We do love the fact that Addie is described a curvy and drips sex appeal. Her far from slim built is never something that she is self-conscious about and it carries no weight (God! Awful pun but we couldn’t resist) on Syd’s mad attraction for Addie. Couple of good sex scenes too in there.


This is light, breezy, middle-of-the-path enjoyable in sexiness and sweetness.   

⭐⭐⭐☆

Art of Magic by KJ

⭐⭐⭐⭐☆


This book is everything sexy, everything sweet and everything romantic.

Catherine (Cath) Monroe leads a full life. She is close to her family, enjoys her job as an English teacher embraces her sexuality (she is bi) and totally owns the sexual being that she is. She is a chance encounter with Rica Diamandis at a conference and realises that she’s failed Flirting 101 when she misses exchanging phone numbers with the woman who set all her motors running. Serendipitously Rica is the new art teacher in the same school Cath works in and she is equally interested in Cath.

 A shadow falls over Cath’s perfect life when her father takes ill and is hospitalised. Plus, the nascent relationship between Cath and Rica is in the danger of being derailed when Cath feels Rica is keeping secrets.

Cath is adorable (read that in all caps, bold font). She is honest, outspoken , emotional, self-aware, sexual and totally sorted. Rica is such a perfect person for Cath. She is patient, charming, giving and so, so romantic. They make a wonderful couple. The secondary characters are finely drawn and thoroughly likeable – particularly the three members of Cath’s department, the principal, Felicity and of course, Sam. Cath’s best friend, Sam, and her partner Abby from Coming Home (another great book) have extremely welcome cameos in this one.  

We love the fact that the relationship between Cath and Rica is solid and keeps building. The pressures and setbacks that they face are all from outside which they handle together and keep solidifying their relationship.


This book is absolutely brilliant. Madly engaging and immersive. So very recommended. 



PS: A shoutout to KJ: can we have a book about Felicity and Tal? Please?

⭐⭐⭐⭐☆

On the Square by Brenda Murphy

⭐⭐⭐

Dale Miller, mom of three, is a contractor. After her ex wiped out Dale’s finances, she’s been struggling to make ends meet. One big project in the offing could set her well on the path of financial recovery. Except that when she meets the potential client, Mai Li, they start off on the wrong footing and Dale walks away from the job.

Apologies set thing right and the two women start a tentative work association on renovating a long-closed restaurant with living quarters on the upper level. Decades of being closed and neglect have made the place quite precarious, but Mai wants to renovate it because it is her childhood home. Mai used to be one of the two hosts of a TV show which got cancelled. She, however has enough saved for the renovations. Just about enough for the renovations and nothing else. So when the roof of her childhood home gives way, Mai has no place to stay. Dale gives her shelter.

Both the women feel an incredible attraction towards each other, but do not want to jeopardize the job and fight against it – till they can’t any more.

The environment of the book is very, very real. The pacing of the book is good and the sex is really, really good.

Dale is a great character. She’s made poor relationship choices in the past and is clearly rather overwhelmed with everything she is handling. Yet she moves with dignity, strength and confidence. She tries her best for her children and is human enough to not meet all expectations at all times. As a person, she is large hearted and giving. As a woman, she is sexy as hell (Aside: we’re completely enamoured by Sexy Dale). Her past relationship fails make Dale uncertain about opening her heart again but she knows how to be in and handle a relationship (One more aside: Relationship Dale is really all that).

Mai started off quite likeable. Her interactions with Dale and Dale’s youngest, seventeen-year old Noah, establish her to be a sensitive and mature person. She is a wonderful sister. An experience in a diner and her subsequent reaction shine light on the homophobia and racism she is subjected to on the regular. However, Mai fails when it comes to her relationship with Dale. With Dale, Mai is quick to take offense, unwilling to give the other woman a chance, doesn’t offer to explain her point of view ever, is incapable of seeing or even trying to see where Dale is coming from, doesn’t apologise or do any damn thing to make the relationship work.

Dale really makes the relationship work. In fact, she makes the whole book work. Okay, the books works because of Dale and the sex.


On the whole, an okay read.

⭐⭐⭐

Evie and the Pack-Horse Librarians by Laurel Beckley

⭐⭐⭐


This one is a byte-sized bit of thoroughly enjoyable whimsy.

Evie Southeil loves books and is a journey-rank editor at Publishing. One misstep – a serious one – and her career as an editor is stalled, possibly derailed. Evie’s fault was love. She allowed her girlfriend, Anda, take a turn at an unpublished manuscript and the next thing Evie knew is that it has been leaked and she’s been demoted to being a pack-horse librarian in the far out-reaches of the kingdom. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Anda dumps her and acknowledges that she had always been eying Evie’s job.

Completely broken, Evie makes the journey to the vast unknown, district forty-five with her cat, Theodosia, and kitten, Mathilde. Her new colleagues are welcoming but pressed for time and money. With the briefest of training, Evie is sent off on a library run by herself. Her run has her travelling for weeks on end on her pack-horse, leading a mule, collecting the books given earlier and distributing new ones to impoverished villagers in the hills.

On her very first solo journey, something spooks Evie’s pack-horse and mule, and after dumping her off, the animals take off. Evie is rescued by a cute four-year old, Lajo, and his mysterious mother, Katalin. The pair actually live in a cave and have next t nothing, but extend every last bit of hospitality to Evie. Katalina and Evie are attracted to each other but when Evie recovers, Katalina and Lajo lead her to the nearest settlement so that she can continue her journey.

Evie discovers Katalina’s secrets, makes new friends, finds her place in the harsh world and has to decide whether to stay on or return to her city life, where Anda’s duplicity has been discovered.

This is a seriously short book. We’d have easily enjoyed it even more were it twice the length. All the characters are truly likeable. The world, while in dire straits on the financial and material comforts fronts, abounds in acceptance and affection. A nice thought, that.


This is a cute, quick, non-intense read.  

⭐⭐⭐

Traumatic Love by Ellen Hoil

⭐⭐⭐⭐


Books perform many functions. They entertain, yes. They are also portals to many thoughts, feelings and experiences that one may not live otherwise. Then there are books that sensitise reader to mindsets, emotions and behaviours that may seem difficult to fathom but have strong roots and basis. This book achieves all three.

Dr. Nydia Rogers is the Chief of ER at Riverview Hospital. Professionally she is a dedicated doctor and personally she keeps mostly to herself. She has one friend, one of the nurses, Trudy, with whom she goes back decades. While Nydia runs the department efficiently she faces constant haranguing from Dr. Goddard about her gender and sexuality. Not to mention that Goddard is also lackadaisical about his work and blames her for pulling him up. Inexplicably, she keeps a civil tongue in her head with his despite his disgusting vitriol.

Jo Powers is a cop mostly working in cases of domestic abuse. While responding to one such attack, Jo is hit on the head by the wife of the perp aka, the woman being beaten up, herself. Thus Jo finds herself in the ER and under Nydia’s ministrations.

The two women have a magnetic pull towards each other till Nydia learns that a cop and immediately shuts down creating a massive gulf between the two of them. The connection between them draws them irresistibly towards one another. However, Nydia has a past that she hasn’t dealt with and the going in rocky – till past issues are resolved.

Writing about Domestic Violence and Intimate Partner Violence can never be easy and in this one, that forms a large part of the context and character development. Right in the beginning, Hoil underscores the fact that people in an abuse situation often make excuses for the person abusing them (ref: the woman being beaten was the one who swung the baseball bat on Jo) and a depressing number of people go back into their toxic environments.

Jo has been witness to domestic violence as a child. However, her mother removed Jo and her sister, Electra, from the acidic environment as soon as their father turned on the girls. Jo is healed and grown up to be a sorted, steady person. The love between the mother and the two girls forms Jo’s bedrock. Since she is a well-adjusted human being, Jo can do her work effectively, taking joy in the miniscule percentage of people who get out of their putrid environments with law intervening at just the right moment. The past exposure to violence and the love that now surrounds her makes Jo capable of loving with an unwavering staunchness that may not have been understandable otherwise.

Nydia is psychologically a much more complex character. The extent of her past experience is revealed slowly through the narrative but right from the start, you know there is much more going on with her. When she freezes Jo for being a cop, you know that there are layers to her. Through the story, she flip-flops, lashes out and has irrationally strong negative responses that she unleashes on Jo. Jo remains staunch and stalwart through it all, figuratively holding Nydia through her roiling emotions.

Before you get an idea that Nydia is just an unreasonable handful, we’d like to clarify, she is also loving and giving in perfect ways. There is one moment when Nydia looks at Jo, has overwhelming emotions and thinks that she never wants to stop feeling that way about Jo. This was one of the most beautiful moments of love we’ve seen. And this, right here, is Hoil’s achievement. Nydia fluctuates rather wildly and widely, but Hoil writes in a way that you can somehow sympathise with her. You are right there with Jo in wanting to soothe. In wanting to understand. In wanting to protect. In wanting to engulf Nydia in love.

The relationship between Nydia and Jo is a fine balancing act that Hoil addresses superbly. At one point, when as a reader you feel okay, now this is just too much, Jo responds in the exact same way. In her conversation with her friend, Duncan, she expresses the exact same sentiments that you feel about the emotional rollercoaster that Nydia and their relationship is. With that Hoil scene and exchange, establishes that Jo is not a doormat and not unaware of the yo-yoing. She is fully cognizant and is choosing Nydia over and over. That is what love should always be – you choose someone in their completeness. And this scene strengthens the romantic aspect of the story immeasurably.

The psychological conditioning that the environment you are brought up in has a very, very far-reaching impact. Without overtly stating this, this fact is laid bare in the fact that Nydia allows Goddard’s insubordination, venom and attacks for as long as she does.

(On reflection, it is easy to see why Nydia’s emotions go haywire when her relationship with Jo starts. In order to exist, Nydia has suppressed her feelings and memories. As her emotions for Jo grow, the Pandora’s box of all her emotions is opened and she is just churning with all these feelings she hasn’t named or acknowledged. It is little wonder that she is all over the place.)

Sensitisation to others, an understanding of other ways of being and an ability to empathise with reactions that could and would seem irrational – this book achieves these and creates a profound impact. Reading it was a definite emotional growth for us.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Standby Counsel by Alexi Venice

⭐⭐⭐⭐


This is a gripping courtroom drama that compels you to keep turning the pages eager to know what happens next.

Attorney Monica Spade has left her previous homophobic organisation and is now partner in her own firm Spade, Daniels & Taylor. Monica is basically a civil lawyer and her jam professionally is health care and business. She stays away from litigation, trials and crime, thank you very much. She is in love with Shelby St. Claire, a gorgeous art teacher, and they’re in the sexual-honeymoon-behaviourally-making space-for-another-person-emotionally-exploring-slightly-on-eggshells phase of their deepening relationship. Life’s good.  

Monica is thrown for a loop when she receives a call from Judge O’Brien’s office requesting her to serve as standby counsel for a pro se criminal defendant. Monica realises that her name was put into the volunteer list as a prank by her friend, the ‘Taylor’ in Spade, Daniels &Taylor. Monica tries to plead off but there is no way she can wriggle out of this one.

With no other recourse, Monica becomes standby counsel to Stela Reiter, a young lady charged with killing her boyfriend by stabbing him 13 times. Stela insists that it was self-protection. As standby counsel Monica’s primary job is to explain the judicial process and laws to Stela, a demure, librarian-looking chemistry student, who is surprisingly self-possessed, highly intelligent and unexpectedly well-versed in law.

Crime, intrigue, long-reaching international plots – Monica finds herself tangled in things she never asked for. And it gets worse when threats become personal and impact her beloved Shelby.

This is a plot-driven book and the plot is very well thought out, nuanced and satisfyingly developed. The unfolding of the size of the crime was completely unexpected. From an ‘intentional homicide’ to an international event is just not what you imagine.

The writing and pacing is excellent. You are eager to know what happens next even as you try to guess it. No part either drags too long or is rushed through. Every action, incident and emotion is given the perfect amount of time, depth and attention. Plus there are sassy exchanges in the dialogues between various characters which range from chuckle-worthy to lol-demanding. One of our favourite parts is Monica’s first conversation with voice-on-phone-millennial, Cassidy.  Not only is the exchange fun, but in that teeny-tiny part, Venice manages to give Cassidy a definite personality. Quite an achievement of good writing, this.

Characterisation-wise, Stela is a triumph. The way she is described, she evokes a range of emotions. She is variously demure, timid, calculating, mysterious, intimidating – a victim and a criminal. We found ourselves flipping between wanting Stela to be innocent and shocked at new reveals about her.

Shelby St. Claire is one of the most gorgeous and amongst the sexiest women on paper we’ve met. We love that she is not just kept at being beautiful and sexy, though. She carries her own hurt and heartbreak, has her own secrets and irrational reactions with her partner. But she is also self-aware and willing (and able) to work on her relationship. She is a complete individual with many parts to her.

Monica, the centre of the story and on whom most of the narrative focuses, is such a real person. She is an everyday human being with every-person aspirations – love, friends, satisfying work and financial security. But when trouble comes calling she grits her teeth and tries to power her way through it the best she can which maintaining her professional and personal integrity and values. She makes mistakes, has her oh-so-human feelings with Shelby, is overwhelmed but makes amends, apologises when necessary, reaches out, has strong core values of right and wrong, refuses to be a pushover and is true to her emotions.  

We loved the relationship between Shelby and Monica which has hot sex and gooey sweetness.

In fact, without particularly trying to give them centre stage, Venice manages to write strong interpersonal relationships between partners (not just Shelby and Monica, but all partners), friends, colleagues and even acquaintances. She gives the people and relationships depth, dimension and flavour.

This one is a very, very immersive, enjoyable and satisfying read.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Hopeless Romantic by Georgia Beers


⭐⭐⭐⭐

A wedding planner who doesn't believe in marriage and a divorce lawyer who had unshakable faith in marriage. A marriage-shy divorcee who knows how to be in a relationship and handle the rough parts with maturity and a marriage-keen romantic who is rather clueless about how to deal with the uncomfortable moments of disagreement in a relationship. Very interesting character contexts in this one.

Theodora (Teddi) Baker is possibly the best wedding planner in town. She's built up an enviable reputation and a successful business, Hopeless Romantic, ground-up. She used to be even more successful with three storefronts instead of the current single one. She had to close two of them to pay alimony when she got divorced. Naturally, Teddi has low interest in relationships and no interest in getting married again.

Leah Scott is s successful divorce lawyer with a not-so-secret craze for romcoms looking for her own happily ever after. 

Leah's little sister, Kelly, is getting married. Kelly chooses Teddi as her wedding planner. Teddi and Leah have sparks and electricity right away but first past history and then personality differences rock the boat.

Teddi and Leah are instantly likeable. The chemistry between them is rocking. The progression of their relationship is so much sweetness. The conflict is not contrived (hallelujah) -- in fact, it is practically written into the narrative right from the beginning so you understand both of them but totally want them to work it out.

The supporting cast of free ends, mama Scott and Kelly are also very likeable. The relationship between Leah and Kelly is totally endearing. 

This is a sweet, easy, feel good read.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Secret of You and Me by Melissa Lenhardt

⭐⭐⭐⭐

It's been eighteen years since Nora Noakes was thrown out of her house by her father. She never returned to her hometown, Lynchfield, Texas. Now that her father is dead, Nora is back in town for his funeral. 

During her time away, Nora has made a life for herself in DC. A war veteran with a talent for languages, she is still employed with the government and has a relationship with a married woman. She has no intention of staying in the town that has chequered history for her. History in the shape of her first boyfriend, Charlie and erstwhile best friend, Sophie; who are now married to each other. 

Sophie with big dreams and a plan of getting out of the judgemental town with Nora. Sophie who was much more than a best friend.

This book has high drama and intense emotions. Though the hook is Nora, Sophie owns the story. She is broken, vulnerable, struggling but also strong, honest, brave and capable of intense, deep emotion unbroken and untainted by time. Sophie is one of the most well realised pen people we've ever met. We love everything about her and were totally floored by her. She kept growing deeper and stronger as a person in every scene.

Nora with her self-preservation and emotions contained by self-protection pales in comparison. Seriously, if you can decide how much to love, is it even love? She is repeatedly accused of selfishness by various characters and that is totally correct. This is established right in the first scene with her expectations from her sister but to whom she gives nothing. There is nothing about Nora that justifies not one, but two women putting their lives on line for her. If only Nora was a better person, this would have been an exceptional book.

This is a second chances romance but the whole effort to create a second chance is only Sophie's. She is alone in the want, in the effort and in the emotion. Where Sophie lived her relationship with Nora even in the intervening years, Nora lived her own life. Where Sophie is expected to upend her whole life and reality for a relationship with Nora, Nora offers nothing in return. Nora is cruel and self-centred with Sophie and her current girlfriend, Alima (who incidentally has upturned her world for Nora). 

Sophie's love has depth, breadth, height and intensity. Nora's involvement feels superficial in comparison which she covers with grand gestures.

Despite all of Nora's failings and shortcomings, Sophie makes this book. It is a highly involving read which draws you in and keeps you turning the pages desperately wanting Sophie to get happiness.

We recommend this one totally for Sophie, the sap, drama and emotions. 

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Lix: A Lesbian Romance (Lix Club Book 1) by Emily Hayes


⭐⭐⭐

This is erotica with a thin veneer of romance.

Kelly Quinn is the owner of Lix an exclusive women's club which offers an environment for all manner of kink with non-judgemental acceptance. Lauren, a very femme, currently single lady is encouraged by an ex who is currently a good friend to explore Lix by herself to help her move out of her comfort zone. The day is the club's Leather & Lingerie theme.

Quinn is immediately attracted to Lauren and vice versa. However, Quinn is dealing (or not) with her own dark memories and is strictly a no-relationship person. Lauren is not particularly looking for a relationship either. But ultimately things do get more serious between the two.

This is erotica. Make no mistake about that. There is BDSM -- more the domme-sub dynamic than physical pain (though there is some of that too on a mild level). There is voyeurism and exhibitionism. There is lots of sex.

Quinn is forty-eight and though we don't recall Lauren's age, this is an age-gap lust driven relationship. The one thing we really liked in the dynamic was the fact though Lauren is described as a natural submissive during sex, she is no pushover otherwise. She's not willing to take any crumbs given by Quinn and has enough self-esteem to know she deserves better. We also liked the fact that each time Quinn behaved like an ass or shortchanged Lauren, she apologised and corrected her behaviour. The dialogue is stilted and unrealistic but that's really not a big draw for this one.

As an erotic romance, this is one of the better reads.

⭐⭐⭐

Night Life by S.J. Hartsfield

⭐⭐⭐⭐

This one has the setting of a romcom but is written with the seriousness and earnestness of a romance. It still works.


Ronnie Kent is the "hottest blonde" escort on the roster of Night Life, an escort agency owned by one Karla. Ronnie enjoys her work and is the most popular escort in the agency. When an unusual booking is accepted by Karla at a premium price, Ronnie is the girl of choice. The booking is unusual inasmuch it is not made by the end client and the contract that ensures a clean health undertaking is not signed by the client either. Though this is not okay, the money is phenomenal and Ronnie rather likes the idea of being a 'gift', so off she goes.


Ronnie's client is Diana Silver, child of wealthy parents whose mother has political ambitions. Diana's mom disses Diana's education in hospitality but nevertheless has Diana working as an event organiser (party planner) in the family business. The overbearing mother is also not the least bit subtle about trying to matchmake and finds a suitable match in Evelyn for Diana and throws them together under the guise of the two of them working for her campaign. 


After a tentative start to their evening together, Ronnie and Diana have a exceptional time together. So much so that Ronnie can't wait to be hired by Diana again. 


Soon Diana becomes Ronnie's 'regular' and Karla happily fleeces Ronnie into paying stupid prices for Ronnie. However, Ronnie, Diana, Karla and Diana's mom did not consider the possibility of feelings rising between Ronnie and Diana.


This is an erotic romance. Erotica drives the romance and almost every scene featuring Ronnie and Diana together is a sex scene (through most of the book). But there are enough feelings (especially in Ronnie) to also make this a romance.


Ronnie is quite lovely. Diana is weirdly helpless and wimpish with the whole mom dynamic. Plus her lack of spine and leading Evelyn (who is a stellar person) on is miles away from endearing. Also, her tendency to treat Ronnie as hired help is less than nice or loving or romantic. That the romance works despite Diana is a tribute to Ronnie's likeability factor and the awesomely hot sex scenes.


Entirely unexpected is the adorable epilogue. Now that certainly brought a smile on our face and ratcheted up the rating for the book. 


This is an enjoyable read, on the whole.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Off Balance by L. E. Royal

⭐⭐⭐⭐☆

L. E. Royal is a must-read author for us. Well-realised characters, rocking chemistry, convincing relationships -- her books have it all.


Maya Scott is the newest employee with the Mars Fund. At twenty-two, Maya hasn't had an easy life. And there is one person, Robert Holt, determined to kick her down and keep her there. Holt also happens to be the grandfather of Maya's three year old daughter, Livvie. In a dick move, Holt managed to wrangle Liv's custody from the scared and confused teenager that Maya was when Liv was born. Ever since then, Maya is struggling to prove herself stable and capable and get her daughter back. 


Maya has an unfortunate and embarrassing first encounter with her boss, Elena Mars. Elena suffers from cerebral palsy but doesn't let that slow her down in any way. She is driven and tough, and works herself and her team hard. 


Liv proves to be an unexpected bridge between Maya and Elena and neither the fourteen years between them nor the vast gap between their financial statuses matters.


Maya and Elena are brilliantly written. Individually, they have all the complexes and complexities that make then entirely real and together their relationship has depths and dimensions that makes it just simply awesome.


Elena's difficulties and struggles are inescapable, incomparable and cannot be overstated. But Maya's difficulties and struggles, though of a different kind, are also as real and as valid. The beautiful part is how each one is there for the other in the way they are needed. How they both make an effort to learn about the place the other is in and what they can do to support -- Maya reading about cerebral palsy and Elena reading about toddler development goals are the obvious examples.


We absolutely love the part where Maya tells Elena that she doesn't entirely understand Elena's condition, but wants to and asks her to talk to her. In the flow of the story, this was incredibly beautiful. In fact, all the ways that Maya shows her love for Elena is heart-squeezingly gorgeous. The less obvious part of loving is that Elena let's Maya love her like the way she does. Uncontrollable physical difficulties have a huge mental and emotional toll. The defensiveness and need-to-prove one's self-sufficiency can be insurmountable hurdles. It requires Maya kind of expansive and unwavering love to overcome this hurdle. And it requires a leap of faith from Elena to allow it. We also loved the parts where Maya and Elena have disagreements and fights that play out in line the complexes they have as individuals. That is very insightful writing.


Liv and Maya's non-binary best friend and their girlfriend are delightful supporting characters. 


This one is definitely romantic erotica -- lots of fabulous sexy times driven by feelings and the relationship between the leading ladies. 


Royal gives us a book that has all the feels, amazing chemistry, multi-dimensional characters, hot sex, an adorable child and, Maya.


This book is most recommended.

⭐⭐⭐⭐☆

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Matters of the Heart
The Shark
Then & Now
Irresistible
Just Married?
Give Me a Reason
Dare to Stay
Peppermint Kiss
Eyes Like Those
Love Like This
Blood and Roses
The Arrangement
Princess of Dorsa
Marriage of Unconvenience
The Lucky Ones
Bliss
Off Screen
Reality Check
Far from Home
Stormy Seas


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