Review, TBR Challenge

TBR Challenge: After the War

June’s theme prompt for Super Wendy’s #TBRChallenge 2022 was “After the War.” Here are the books we chose to tackle our TBRs this month.


Erin Read: Blind Tiger by Jordan L. Hawk (2021)

The Pride, Book #1

Why was this book on your TBR?

I saw it promoted when it was released last year and was drawn to the art deco cover. And the big cat.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

Of all the books I’ve got  in my TBR tagged “Roaring Twenties,” this one I could actually finish because there’s an audiobook, plus I was motivated by the fact that I just read the Hexworld series.

What are your thoughts on the book?

This was a really fun book. It’s a 1920s spinoff from the Hexworld series, so if you’re already familiar with the worldbuilding, you’re all set, and if you’re not then it’s much the same as other fantasy worldbuilding, so don’t let that hold you back. 

In this case, The Pride is a nightclub owned by the Gatti family, which is a found family of orphaned so-called dangerous familiars (i.e. they’re all big cats), and bumpkin Sam winds up there when he escapes his abusive, gaslighting family to live with his disowned cousin. At The Pride, when cheetah familiar Alistair Gatti sees Sam, he immediately recognizes his ideal match witch, but he’s the 1920s equivalent of a widower, his former witch having years previously committed suicide after being unable to overcome his shellshock, and as a result Alistair is completely unprepared to take a chance on either a relationship or a bond again.

For me, this was more of an easy read than a dramatic, emotional read, but there were some fantastic moments. Alistair hits all the right beats with his “I’m so not into Sam, but I swear to god if he pets my brother’s snow leopard again, I’ll start a cat fight.” Meanwhile, Sam is a bona fide cinnamon roll of innocent purity who is nothing but sweetness. Also, it’s great that Hawk uses a lot of 1920s setting cues but also gets that this is a made-up world that can be whatever it wants, so Alistair and Sam go on a date and hold hands in the park. Like, if you can imagine whatever you want, why not imagine whatever you want? 

Also, I realized when I started the audiobook that I have listened to so many that I can recognize when a narrator is using a different name than what I’m used to (I’m not proud of this, but OTOH I kind of am?), and Greg Tremblay uses Greg Boudreaux for steamier reads, and… I would like to know how he decides, because I think Hawk writes some really amazing sex scenes, but maybe it hits me hard because it’s so well done emotionally? Maybe the other stuff really is the “anatomy lesson” kind of sex, and I’m just so used to it that it doesn’t phase me anymore? Anyway, he’s a great narrator.

Aaaaand my favorite moment was when Alistair (who, remember, is a cheetah familiar) is getting intimate with Sam for the first time and tells him, “You’re the cat’s meow.”

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop


Ingrid Read: America’s Promise by Celeste de Blasis (2021)

America’s Daughter Trilogy, Book #3

Why was this book on your TBR?

It had really great reviews, I love series, and I haven’t read too much Revolutionary War stuff. Why not?

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

I wanted an After the War that wasn’t post WWII or post Civil War and it was not what I expected.

What are your thoughts on the book?

Here’s the thing–you really can’t read this as a standalone. It became very clear almost immediately that I was entering into a saga two-thirds of the way through the action. I also get the feeling that calling this series a straight, classic “romance” isn’t entirely accurate, which makes sense because it’s clearly listed as a “literary saga”, “historical literary fiction” and “US Historical Fiction”. Why did I read this? It was recommended as a sweeping romance. And I do have to say that it is romantic–there are multiple romances at play here, and it’s clear there were others that were disrupted and abruptly ended by the war. Essentially, Addie has lost her husband and somehow fallen in love with a Scottish officer who is serving with the British in the American Revolutionary War. She’s pregnant, and ends up in Virginia with her Aunts to attempt to pass off the child as her late husband’s. The book is virtually a play by play of the end of the war and just after it, which was admittedly fascinating–but it’s not romance. And that’s okay. It took me much longer than I’d like to admit to realize that her brother’s friend “Hammie” is Alexander Hamilton. 

Obviously as a Smut reviewer I was kind of bummed that it literally didn’t fit any of the criteria for the purposes of this blog, or for this specific Super Wendy Challenge. Were this a high school assignment, I’d get a zero. However, may I just flag this for interested readers due to the times we’re living in!! I did get a deep feeling of comfort reading this, weirdly, because it’s very easy to say that we’ve never been through the type of political and social upheaval we’re currently going through–but we have. And so I did find it pretty gripping. 

Buy Now: Amazon


Want to join us in tackling your TBR? July’s theme is “Vintage.”

Recommended Read, Review, TBR Challenge

TBR Challenge: Tales of Old

May’s theme prompt for Super Wendy’s #TBRChallenge 2022 was “Tales of Old.” Here are the books we chose to tackle our TBRs this month.


Holly Read: The King’s Man by Elizabeth Kingston (2015)

Welsh Blades, Book #1

Why was this book on your TBR?

When Erin reviewed Desire Lines, which is the third book in this series, I thought, “That sounds like a Holly book.” I’m pretty sure this is the first ebook I ever purchased.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

Gotta love a good medieval romance.

What are your thoughts on the book?

Holy Shamoly, Elizabeth Kingston can write. There are some standard Medieval romance scenes—for example, the our hero wakes up wounded, thinks he’s in Hell, and mistakes the heroine for an angel—but Kingston’s prose really elevate these moments so that though the beats feel familiar, they are not cliché. 

I loved the journey for both of the main characters. Rannulf is the king’s fixer (and given that the king in question is Edward I, known for his ruthlessness, well…) who needs to learn to forgive himself. Especially for killing his adoptive father, who was admittedly horrible, but who Rannulf also loved deeply. Rannulf’s psychology was absolutely fascinating, and I appreciated the new spin on the Bad Romance Dad. 

Gwenllian is a certified bad-ass and leader of men, who must give it all up when she marries Rannulf—and while she’s sad to leave that part of herself behind, she’s also relieved to no longer have to lead. So actually, her psychology is also fascinating. She is torn between her past and her future, between her love of her homeland and her duty to her king, between her mother and her husband. 

A note: there is a lot of gender essentialism in this book, but it absolutely works here, given the time period and the characterization. Just so you know not to expect any Woke Knights, because Rannulf is decidedly unwoke. And even though Gwenllian is a woman in pants, there are none of those scenes where “she must be a woman because of her pretty violet eyes.” Rather, her armor is a central part of her identity, which causes an existential crisis when she must set it aside for more womanly pursuits.

I loved this book. Highly recommended for the nerds out there. 

Buy Now: Amazon


Erin Read: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley (2009)

Mackenzies & McBrides, Book #1

Why was this book on your TBR?

It’s a pretty famous (and lauded) historical romance and, bonus, I found a used copy at the library book sale one year.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

I wanted a historical romance that was also an older publication for this month. A double whammy, as it were.

What are your thoughts on the book?

It’s always a little nerve-wracking, wondering if a book that everyone seems to be excited about will live up to the hype. In this case, readers, it does. For me, anyway.

There is ton of period, er, relevant ableism and also a little bit of homophobia, but those terms are used to refract ideas for the reader, taking something we in a modern age see and (more or less, anyway) understand, and shifting it slightly so that we can see something about the period in question (1881 Edwardian London, Paris, and Scotland). Ian’s “madness” is not well understood even by his brothers, who love him dearly, but we recognize it as neurodiversity, more specifically as autism. Because of his ND, Ian’s father had him committed to an asylum, where he spent his youth and young-adulthood until his older brother inherited the dukedom and could get him out. In Paris, we meet one of the men who had been in the asylum with him—and who had been committed solely because he was gay. Ashley providing us with insight into the setting is also shedding some light on the historical treatment of individuals who do not fit the “normal” mold. I like it when authors poke at readers like that.

This book also features what feel like older protagonists—although apparently Ian is 27 and Beth is 29, so they’re not that old—but Beth is a widow who grew up in London’s East End, so she’s savvy and no-nonsense. This gives us a heroine who, when confronted with a murder connected to Ian’s past, trusts her gut and Ian and doesn’t engage in furtive questioning of the hero’s integrity or motives. She knows the limits and lengths of her power (she’s an heiress thanks to inheriting a fortune) and doesn’t let people cow her. I also like that. Very much. 

There’s a lot here about letting people be who they are, loving them as they are, and sharing vulnerabilities with the people one loves and is loved by. Also Beth and Ian are pretty horny and not shy about it, so that’s fun. 

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop


Want to join us in tackling your TBR? June’s theme is After the War.

Review, TBR Challenge

TBR Challenge: Location, Location, Location

April’s theme prompt for Super Wendy’s #TBRChallenge 2022 was “Location, Location, Location.” Here are the books we chose to tackle our TBRs this month.


Erin Read: Star Dust by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner (2015)

Fly Me to the Moon, Book #1

Why was this book on your TBR?

After I attended an event on the National Mall commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, I started to wonder about romance set in that period, so when I found this series, I added the whole thing to my TBR.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

Outer space is a pretty unique location, right?

What are your thoughts on the book?

This book was exactly what I expected and wanted it to be. Score! Anne-Marie is a divorcee whose parents buy her and her children a new house in the neighborhood where all the astronauts live. And wouldn’t you know it? There’s a very sexy astronaut living right next door. While they don’t get off to a great start, sparks are flying before you can say “ignition.”

This book played right into my mental imagery of the traditional American mid-century household, but that’s it’s strength; it’s working within that frame of reference to remind the reader that divorce was still extremely uncommon (fun fact, in the course of doing a school project in South Dakota, I learned that people moved there because it was easier to get a divorce than in other states), still scandalous, and women were scorned for it because they were expected to overlook a husband’s wandering…everything. The era feels more present than most histrom, so Anne-Marie’s attitudes toward being with a partner she truly desired felt both outrageous when viewed through a Regency histrom lens and also perfectly right when viewed through a contemporary lens (at least for the contemporaries I read). Then, too, my generation is so accustomed to astronauts that they’re not the celebrities they were during the space race, so it was interesting to have a unique celebrity hero.

Anne-Marie’s social position during this book might lick the flames of one’s “burn down the patriarchy” rage, but she’s also in an extremely privileged position because her parents’ wealth paid for her divorce and for her new house. Their connections got her a job. Her early interactions with Kit made the other astronauts’ wives sympathetic to her while the rest of her circle was gossiping and making judgments about her, so she didn’t have much social power of her own, but she was accepted into a group with a lot of clout. At the end of the day, she’s worked really hard to reboot her life…but then we don’t know what will happen to her with Kit – will she stop working outside the home again? As an astronaut’s SO, she’d be under a lot of media scrutiny, but we get no sense of how that pans out for her. It’s an interesting balancing act.

Once I finally started reading, I powered through this book. It was supremely interesting to me. But I can acknowledge that there were some curious choices on the part of the authors specifically to avoid tension in moments where the drama would have been quite natural – like when Kit’s in space, for example. Or, as I mentioned above, where the media was concerned. So while I was fully engaged, some readers might find it perhaps a bit too calm.

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop


Holly Read: Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin (2014)

Gunpowder Chronicles, Book #1

Why was this book on your TBR?

It’s a steampunk book set during the Opium Wars. Also, I’ve liked the other books I’ve read by Jeannie Lin.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

Uh, it’s a steampunk book set during the Opium Wars.

What are your thoughts on the book?

This is one of those books where the plot is one damn thing after another. Poor Soling gets kidnapped no less than three times (by different people!). So the first thing to know is that you have to be prepared for a rollicking adventure story. And when the book ends, you know it’s going to be another damn thing after another, because the story is nowhere near done—this is not a standalone HEA, but rather just the beginning of Soling’s adventures.

There is a bit of bait and switch in the middle: for a while, it seems like Lin is setting up a love triangle, with Soing caught between two former young acolytes of her father’s who have taken opposing paths (obviously symbolic of the different paths Soling herself might take), but Yang Hanzhu quickly exits stage left, and then it’s nothing but Chen Chang-wei. This is unfortunate, because I found “Uncle Yang” (pirate, alchemist, outlaw) a much more appealing love interest than dutiful Chang-wei. I know that Lin can write great pining, but in this case, the very slow burn was overshadowed by all the adventures Soling was having.

The best part of the book is Lin’s imagining of what Chinese steampunk would look like—without a steam engine. For example, several characters have mechanical prosthetics that integrate with their bodies using wires attached to acupuncture needles. 

Overall, this was a fun read, if not a great romance. Recommended for those who love steampunk and want to read about something besides dirigibles in London.

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop


Ingrid Read: All Rhodes Lead Here by Mariana Zapata

Why was this book on your TBR? 

Well, I’ve read everything else by Mariana Zapata so I figured I had to!

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

I pored over my options and initially figured I’d do something in a fresher, lesser done locale, but I chose this one because so much of the plot revolved around place. The heroine went back to her roots to be where her mother loved to be and ultimately went missing. And so it seemed like an interesting twist on “location”.

What are your thoughts on the book?

I honestly thought Mariana Zapata had a ghostwriter for the first chunk of this book. Traditionally, MZ heroines are pretty cookie cutter—tough as nails but ultimately very naive and innocent. They usually need a rescue, and the hero tends to be someone who can’t seem to stop saving the day…because he’s secretly gripped by deep feelings he can’t resist.

In this one, I clocked Aurora as being a full-grown woman who is making independent decisions for herself and doesn’t really need rescuing. (Except for when she hikes and makes errors in judgment, but lots of inexperienced hikers do this, so.) After a post divorce road trip, she ends up renting a room online from who she THINKS is an adult but is actually Rhodes’ son in the town she grew up in. After begging, she’s allowed to stay temporarily and she gets a job at the local outdoors store working for a childhood friend. 

The basic plot revolves around Aurora working through the loss of her marriage, her mother’s disappearance, and the loss of her work as a songwriter. Rhodes is learning how to be a hands-on parent after being away in the Navy for most of his son’s life, and works as a forest ranger. Essentially, what we’re looking at here is extreme capability porn mixed with grumpy/sunshine. My kryptonite. 

A lot of people dislike MZ’s slow burn, and if that’s a hold up for some readers I highly recommend they give this one a go simply because it makes sense. There’s a kid involved and living on the premises…and there’s a lot of other things going on. It’s not just nonstop smut dangling and then a bait and switch. 

I have no idea if MZ used a ghostwriter (not my business, really) but after finishing, I felt like it was just a more mature storyline written by perhaps a more mature author. And the threads of “where” are threaded throughout the plot beautifully–where is her mother? Where will Aurora settle down? Where did her prior relationship go wrong? And where did her songwriting ability go?

It’s a great (if not flexible) example of location, location, location and I highly recommend it.

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop


Want to join us in tackling your TBR? May’s prompt is Tales of Old.

Review, TBR Challenge

TBR Challenge: Grumpy

March’s theme prompt for Super Wendy’s #TBRChallenge 2022 was “Grumpy.” Here are the books we chose to tackle our TBRs this month.


Erin Read: Always Only You by Chloe Liese (2020)

Bergman Brothers, Book #2

Why was this book on your TBR?

I really loved the first book in this series, and the protagonists of this one sound super interesting.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

The back cover copy doesn’t say it’s grumpy sunshine, but I thought it was? Plus it’s sportsy and we’re doing sportsy stuff this month on the blog. 

What are your thoughts on the book?

Wow, I could totally write a whole mostly gushing review about this book. (I mean, I can live without Shakespeare, and I have routinely thanked my husband for never speaking poetry to me, but I guess everybody’s not me.) I had read the first book in the series as an ARC, and I loved it, even though the protagonists were messy college kids who weren’t adulting all that well (which usually I don’t have a ton of patience for). But of course then how could I not be intrigued by the whole Bergman family? Plus my heritage is very Scandinavian, so I always like finding that in a good book. 

Anyway, I loved the pining virgin hero (Ren) who’s been biding his time until the object of his affections (Frankie) would not be off limits so he could ask her out (they work together). He’s the purest hero you can imagine. I liked that Frankie used being grumpy as a mask to protect herself from a world that takes her spoons. I mean, I didn’t like that she had to do that, but I liked that she found a way to protect herself and that the team still adored her and thought she was fierce. The story centers largely on how Frankie’s disability and neurodiversity impact her life and relationships, so it’s nice that Ren is a legit cinnamon roll. I also appreciated that this book was much more low angst than book 1 of the series (because HOLY ANGST, BATMAN!), but there was still plenty of natural tension between Ren and Frankie to keep things moving until the dark moment. It might be too gentle for some, but it was good for me. 

Buy Now: Amazon


Holly Read: Say No to the Duke by Eloisa James (2019)

The Wildes of Lindlow Castle, Book #4

Why was this book on your TBR?

In the before-COVID times, Erin and Ingrid saw Eloisa James give a talk, and snagged me a signed copy. 

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

I was feeling grumpy about saying yes to too much, so I figured I could take some inspiration on saying no. 

What are your thoughts on the book?

Unfortunately for me, my reading experience also aligned with the prompt: this book was making me grumpy.

Some backstory. Eloisa James was, for a while, my number one favorite romance author, but I was kind of “meh” on the numbers series, plus I got distracted by other things, so I had never read any of the Wilde books. So when I started reading this one, my immediate thought was that James’ character work was not as compelling as in her earlier stuff. (Plus it didn’t feel as dense and textured.) I don’t know if that’s my mindset right now and this was not the right time for this book, or if there has actually been a change in her writing.

The point is, I was six chapters in, and I knew a lot of facts about Betsy, but the contradictory mishmosh did not add up to a person yet. I’m DNFing for now, but maybe I’ll come back to this one day. Or maybe, next time I want a Georgian fix, I’ll reread the Desperate Duchesses again.

Sidenote: I reread Erin’s review, and I did not get the sense that Betsy declined the Duke because he was boring, but rather from a weird sense of competition that she would get and decline the most proposals to show the world that she was the awesomest.

Buy Now: Amazon


Ingrid Read: The Bun & the Gun by Vanessa Gray Bartal (2019)

Spies Like Us, Book #1

Why was this book on your TBR?

Someone recommended it online and their awkward, gushing review had me totally curious. 

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

I have serious obsession issues with characters who are grudgingly dragged into their happily ever afters, and this one looked particularly juicy.

What are your thoughts on the book?

HOLY cow. Holy mooing cow. I laughed so hard during this book, and then when I finished it I couldn’t fall asleep because my poor love struck, sighing self couldn’t cope with how adorable this couple was. 

Basically this very witty, smart, and completely bananas reference librarian (Maggie) is recruited by a sexy spy man to go work for a secret government agency and help catch the baddies. Ridge the spy man is the grumpiest boss ever and routinely makes everyone cry, but outside of work Ridge and Maggie are best friends. And what makes this book particularly adorable is that NEITHER OF THEM KNOW THEY’RE MEANT TO BE TOGETHER, but WE READERS DO. 

Maggie is determined to help Ridge connect with his other employees, and Ridge is determined to protect Maggie when a new op that depends on Maggie being in the field surfaces. Meanwhile, they’re cluelessly tripping over themselves with clever words and sexual tension. 

The only tiny thing I thought might dull the shine of this book for some people is that Maggie starts out 20 lbs overweight and loses the weight as she goes through training. But I really didn’t see a problem with it because she says very directly that she eats healthier now so she can run faster—the weight loss is a practical result of the necessary lifestyle changes required by her job and it’s not treated like Ridge didn’t see her until she was at a “hot weight”. Ridge is smitten with her from the jump. It’s treated as a simple fact and is a non issue from my read, but I could see some people feeling a prickly way about it.

Regardless, this book was brimming with witty banter and Maggie was fantastic. Five stars, take my money, next book in the series, please.

Buy Now: Amazon


Want to join us in tackling your TBR? April’s prompt is Location, Location, Location.

Review, TBR Challenge

TBR Challenge: Fairy Tale

February’s theme prompt for Super Wendy’s #TBRChallenge 2022 was “Fairy Tale.” Here are the books we chose to tackle our TBRs this month.


Holly Read: Haunted by Christina C. Jones (2015)

Eternally Tethered, Book #1

Why was this book on your TBR?

I assume Christina C. Jones must have had a flash sale around the same time Ingrid reviewed Getting Schooled, because I have a bunch of her books all clumped together in my Kindle. (Like a heathen, I only use collections to weed out books I’ve already read.)

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

The blurb has a dreamy, fairy-tale quality to it.

What are your thoughts on the book?

I loved the first chunk of the book, and genuinely didn’t know where the story was going. Khalida starts having visions of a man with piercing black eyes; then she meets that man. Then she starts having sex with him—or maybe they’re very vivid sex dreams? She can’t tell if they’re really happening, because they’ll abruptly stop, and she’ll be standing in the middle of the room with all her clothes on, like it never happened. Only the hickeys are still there. It’s frankly ominous as hell.

The revelation of what’s going on with Khalida and Aram is pretty interesting, but the denouement felt rushed, as Khalida switches from unsure to absolutely positive it’s love in the space of a memory. I would have liked a little more there, and perhaps a little more mutual understanding between the characters, rather than Khalida simply apologizing for doubting. 

I was also left with a lot of questions about why and how Khalida and Aram ended up in their predicament. However, this is the first book in a trilogy, and it seems that more about the bigger picture will be explained in the subsequent stories.

Buy Now: Amazon


Ingrid Read: Gilded Mess by Colette Rhodes (2021)

Three Bears, Book #1

Why was this book on your TBR?

I personally felt that a Goldilocks and the Three Bears remake involving shifters and polyamory was too intriguing to pass up.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

It seemed like it would be a really quick thumbs up or thumbs down—with remakes, I feel like it’s easy to have a pretty fast radar for thoroughness and creativity and I was not wrong here.

What are your thoughts on the book?

This book is bananas. First thing that’s critical to know…it’s a series HEA. So you don’t get it when you finish this book. However, considering the heat level and number of heart-racing scenes, you’ll need a break to continue functioning in society.

The hilarious thing is that the author really leans into the original and it’s fantastic. Ria (Goldilocks) is a very sassy/saucy. Noah, who is Papa Bear (she calls him that!!) is the grumpy to her sunshine. Eli and Seth are more of a pair—one is sweet in the streets but demanding in the sheets, and the other wears his heart on his sleeve and is more of the life of the party.

Was it weird that they’re poly and brothers? Yes. It was. Did the author make the brothers attracted to one another? No. And she does make it make sense—since they’re bears either they all share and stay together or they do the territorial mate thing and can’t. 

It’s a pearl-clutching, décolletage-fanning good time, regardless. 

Buy Now: Amazon


Erin Read: Dithered Hearts by Chace Verity (2019)

Dithered Hearts, Book #1

Why was this book on your TBR?

Around the time we were looking at a lot of retellings, I saw this one promoted as a trans Cinderella retelling, so I snapped it up. Also the cover is interesting.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

I don’t have a ton of books that fall into the “fairy tale” category, and I’ve already downloaded this book a couple of times but had to set it aside for other responsibilities, so NOW IS THE TIME.

What are your thoughts on the book?

Cyn is our non-binary Cinderella with a trans fairy godfather who whisks Cyn away to a ball thrown to find a wife for the local prince who doesn’t really want a wife on account of he is gay. At the ball, Cyn learns that her step-sisters, with whom she has not had cordial relationships, are living unhappily with their abusive parents just like Cyn is. Cyn also learns that her step-sisters are both attracted to her at the ball (though they don’t know who she is at that point), so this is also a poly relationship for these NB/F/F step-siblings. Plus we’ve got class divides between Cyn’s poverty-stricken non-noble family and the ostentatiously wealthy nobility we meet at the ball. There’s a lot going on here! And a lot to engage many readers!

I ended up DNFing this one, which bummed me out. I really struggled to engage with the very interesting premise because there were enough technical errors to be distracting, which I sometimes overlook, but also the narrative was heavily front-loaded with info dumps, which on the one hand definitely allow us to understand what’s going on in the kingdom and what the non-noble protagonists value and disdain, but on the other hand were so unsubtle that they ended up pushing me away from the story rather than pulling me into it. 

Buy Now: Amazon


Want to join us in tackling your TBR? March’s theme is “Grumpy.”