TBR Challenge

TBR Challenge: Animals

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

Erin Read: My Boyfriend is a Bear by Pamela Ribon and Cat Farris (2018)

Why was this book on your TBR?

I was talking about monster romance with a friend, and she asked me if I’d read this book, so I decided I would. 

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

Her boyfriend is an actual bear.

What are your thoughts on the book?

This book somehow manages to be totally bonkers and totally normal. Nora’s life is such a normal millennial (or even Gen Z, now that they’re adulting) singleton life, but it’s juxtaposed with the complete absurdity of Nora being in a relationship with an actual bear. That doesn’t have a name. So they just call him “the Bear” or “Bear.” Absurd. 

Nora went camping with her last pretentious boyfriend, broke up with him, and also came face-to-face with a bear! Back home, she and her friends go out and think of all the things Nora wants and should expect of her next boyfriend so she doesn’t end up with another dud, as friends do. Meanwhile, fires are raging through the wilderness, displacing animals. Wandering home wasted, Nora finds a bear—THE bear, she knows because he’s holding a magazine she left behind—going through her trash and decides to invite him into her home and feed him, as one does with wild bears. Everything rolls from there. 

The charm of this book is in its many amusing observations of real life. Things like dealing with a job that pays the bills but otherwise sucks. The conversations people have at parties that end up being superficial and/or competitive. Friends projecting their relationship issues on you when things get tough. Parents not approving of your choices. And also Bear just being the best boyfriend (with some imperfections, like not cleaning up his cereal bowl promptly and an unfortunate propensity to break things). He hangs shelves for Nora’s cat to climb so it doesn’t get stepped on. He wears clothes and gets a job and lives among people all for her. And he spoons like a champ. So, at the end of the day, even though Nora and the Bear totally have a sexual relationship and he leaves her to hibernate for months and bears aren’t, like, simply members of society, this ends up being a really sweet love story. But it’s also weird.

Buy Now: Amazon


Holly Read: Angel in Marble by Elaine Coffman (1991)

Mackinnon series, Book #1

Why was this book on your TBR?

Whenever I see a bodice ripper in a Little Free Library, I have to grab it. It’s a compulsion. I can’t help myself!

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

Purely, 100%, based on the stepback. 

look at this pig

I needed to find out why that pig is there!

What are your thoughts on the book?

Going with the animal theme, I am pleased to report that the very first time we see our heroine, she is being chased down the street by an irate goose. So that’s solid.

In addition to the goose, in the early chapters, there’s a run-in with a very mean bull. There’s also a cow who gets her head stuck in a fence, which gives our hero the opportunity to manipulate our heroine into spending time with him. So many animal shenanigans!

Unfortunately, I didn’t finish this book, so I cannot tell you what the deal with the pig is. 

Why did I not finish this book? Well, this is one of those books where the hero is like “I see this boundary that this woman is drawing and I can tell she doesn’t like spending time with me and definitely doesn’t want me to touch her but she’s so extra hot that I am going to ignore all of this because having her is what I deserve.” It was exceedingly gross. (There’s also a whole weird backstory about his parents getting killed by Comanches and I don’t really want to know where *that* is going, nor do I have the mental energy to parse the language that Coffman uses to describe these events in a thoughtful way.)

I think I need to reorganize my pile o romance novels into books I actually want to read and books that I want to have on my shelves for aesthetic purposes. Because this one is, I think, the latter.

Buy Now: Amazon


Want to join us in tackling your TBR? Next month’s theme is Flirting with Danger.

TBR Challenge

TBR Challenge: Blue Collar

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

Erin Read: Steadfast by Sarina Bowen (2016)

True North, Book #2

Why was this book on your TBR?  I’d been reading a lot of Sarina Bowen and I think it was a freebie?

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge? Apparently the hero’s working at his dad’s mechanic shop because he was just released from prison and no one else will employ him. I am agog.

What are your thoughts on the book?

I read a couple SB books and thought she trended angsty. Then I went on a new adult sportsball bender and most of those books from her were so sweet! So now that my head is all unicorns and butterflies, we go PURE ANGST with Steadfast. EveRyTHinG iS TerRiBLe. I mean, in fairness to these characters, they’re in their early 20s and he killed her brother while driving under the influence, and they have NO family support network, so yeah, that’s terrible. But uff da. It’s heavy.

Let me just get all the content notes I can think of out there: Emotional abuse by a parent, emotional neglect by a parent, abandonment by a parent, assault, death of a sibling, alcoholism, narcotics addiction, job insecurity, housing insecurity, financial insecurity, police abuse of power, description of a car crash involving no safety restraint… I’m sure there’s more but that’s probably the big stuff. So it’s a lot. 

Broadly speaking, I enjoyed the structure and writing of this book, though I’m not often one for angsty reads. The angst in this one didn’t really get me in the feels, but it also wasn’t emotionally stressful—could just be my headspace when I was reading. The romance didn’t quite hit for me, though I really liked how supportive they were of each other, especially in the second half of the book. My struggle primarily stemmed from the fact that this is a second chance romance in which they’ve both never stopped loving each other but they both agree he’s no good for her on account of he’s a convicted felon with a really serious drug addiction and uncertain employment/housing prospects, and yet they also rapidly shift from emotionally fraught to together again. It’s like they had sex again, and that flipped a switch to “yeah it’s complicated but feelings-wise we’re fine now,” meaning all the tension after that stemmed from them being discovered. Which segues into what I enjoyed more: the way Sophie tenaciously digs into the mystery of why her brother was in the car with a guy he hated in the first place.

Buy Now: Amazon


Holly Read: Renovation of Love by Meka James (20

Love on Madison Island, Book #1

Why was this book on your TBR?

I bought this book around the time when it came out, because I’d read another book by the author (and liked it) and was feeling excited about people finding love in their 40s. 

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

The hero owns a construction company and is renovating the heroine’s home.

What are your thoughts on the book?

Part of the middle were slow, but the payoff is worth it. This is, hands down, the best reasoning behind a second chance romance I’ve read. Ever. So even though I was feeling a little meh in the middle, I’m so glad I picked this book up.

I kind of don’t want to recap the backstory because it would ruin the payoff. It’s not that there are spoilers, exactly, because nothing that comes out is a surprise (even if it’s not explicit til the end), but the book talks around things and talks around things and talks around things—so much so that I was getting antsy—and then all of a sudden things are made explicit and everything pops into place and it just all makes sense. 

Let’s just say that when they were young, Marcel and Cynthia had different dreams for their lives. By breaking up when they were young, they were both able to pursue their dreams, and now, having lived full lives, are ready to come back together to shape a new chapter together. Just beautiful. 

Bonus points: abortion rep (in the past, not regretted) and a hero who has had a vasectomy. More vasectomies in romance, please and thank you.

Buy Now: Amazon


Ingrid Read: Love in a Small Town by Zoe York

Pine Harbour, Book #1

Why was this book on your TBR?

I’m a sucker for a series, what can I say?

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

I read very few books involving second chance romance that don’t revolve around a very silly mistake being blown out of proportion, and this looked meaty.

What are your thoughts on the book?

So this one did knock my socks off. It opens with Olivia serving breakfast at the restaurant she waitresses at…to her ex husband and the woman who slept at his house last night. Turns out he didn’t hanky panky with her, but it really set some juicy wheels in motion and I was here for it.

Essentially, Rafe is still in love with his ex, and never really wanted to divorce her. But they were young and didn’t have the relationship skills to make things work, and their marriage imploded. But he’s always wanted her back.  He’s tried being suave, he’s tried being sugary, and kind of settles on waiting her out by eating at her places of employment constantly. Olivia is hurting, too—she married Rafe quickly and moved to his tiny hometown, only for him to become a workaholic and leave her on her own. So when he brings what sure looks like a one night stand into her place of employment for walk of shame breakfast, Olivia decides she’s finished and tells Rafe she’s selling the house and moving away. 

What’s super sexy is that Rafe really reflects on his behavior and takes the time to journal and write Olivia letters addressing their issues. They’re like, REALLY self aware, and it’s very attractive. 

This is one where the author throws in a sort of surprise black moment and it works beautifully. Their reunion was…amazing. Both characters grew into really complex, interesting people (who are obviously meant to be together now that they’re not so young and stupid) and the ending was so satisfying.

Buy Now: Amazon


Want to join us in tackling your TBR? Next month’s theme is Animals.

TBR Challenge

TBR Challenge: Vintage

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

Erin Read: Band Sinister by K.J. Charles (2018)

Why was this book on your TBR?
I decided I should try K.J. Charles, and this was the first book I bought. Not, as it happened, the first I read.

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

It’s a book that’s got some old school romance vibes. Just look at the cover!

What are your thoughts on the book?

I didn’t really know this going in, but after a few chapters I thought, “This really has a Georgette Heyer vibe.” And what do you know?! KJC has a little note on Goodreads that she went “full Heyer” on this book. So it’s extra vintage, I guess, but also bonus—it’s all that Heyer repartee (at least in the beginning) but without the racism or the antisemitism. And with on-page sexytimes! Woot! 

Here’s how it goes: Guy’s sister, Amanda, has secretly published a gothic novel in which their neighbor and his best friend are very clearly caricatured as the villains. Oh, and those naughty, villainous men just so happen to be in the neighborhood for their regular “Murder” houseparty. Thinking she’ll get more fodder for her next book by spying on Rookwood and his scandalous friends, Amanda rides off, only to break her leg in a riding accident, at which point she’s taken to Rookwood Hall, but too ill to do anything about it. Guy goes to take care of her and protect her from the horrible men, only to discover that they’re all really cool, open-minded men. Who also have sex with each other. (He wasn’t supposed to find out about that, whoops!) Of course, Rookwood is also surprised to find that he likes the uptight bumpkin, and both he and Guy find themselves catching feelings. But Guy is in no position to thumb his nose at society, and publicly befriending Rookwood would not only ruin him, but also his sister. 

I liked the whole of this book. I liked that Rookwood and his friends were comfortable enough with themselves (and financially independent enough) that they could live their best lives. I liked that Guy had to figure out how to live his best life after being too scared to step out of line. I liked that Rookwood and his friends are diverse – the Murder includes Black men, a Jewish man, and a trans man, and they’re also not all aristocrats or gentry (there were a lot of characters, and I read this fast, so I might be forgetting some, but the point is they’re way not all rich cis white guys from the privileged class). I liked that Amanda was independent. I liked that the Murder joked with each other in sometimes rude ways, but they also set that aside and took care of each other with love and gentleness when needed. I liked that Rookwood was hotheaded and Guy would turtle up, but they still managed to talk to each other and work through things together. I liked that it was a house party (you can get away with so much at a house party). I just really, really liked this book.

Buy Now: Amazon


Holly Read: Moonrise by Roberta Gayle (1996)

Why was this book on your TBR?

Like two years ago, I put together a list of historical romances featuring Black love that I wanted to read, and I came across this book, and desperately wanted to read it. Art dealer and pirate in 19th century Paris! Art shenanigans! A gorgeous clinch cover! Except it’s out of print. Lucky for me, Erin has a superpower and found a copy, which she sent me for my birthday.

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

Well, it’s a historical, and it’s more than 25 years old. 

What are your thoughts on the book?

Unfortunately, the execution did not live up to the promise of the premise. I think the main disconnect here stems from the blurb: Devlin is going to smuggle a legendary masterpiece to Spain, but then revolutionaires get involved. So I thought we were looking at some art heist shenanigans, where Pascale gets caught up in Devlin’s nonsense. But the “legendary masterpiece” is actually a painting by Pascale’s father, that he’s hidden from her. She wants it so that she can cement her father’s reputation as an artist by getting accepted in the Salon, and she is pissed that Devlin is in cahoots with her father to get it out of the country. (For the record, I am 100% team Pascale here; she manages her father’s career because he’s a man-child who would have let her starve while he focused on his art. Why the heck is he suddenly adult enough to not sell his “best painting,” if it would make life more financially stable for his family? Is he gonna start hustling? I thought not.)

On top of the letdown about the source of the “legendary masterpiece,” there’s a lot of surface-level art history going on. And I’m sorry, but I do not care about the Impressionist Movement. Oh no, Édouard Manet, you are worried about the reception of Olympia? Yes, that painting was controversial, but I really don’t care. There are a lot of scenes where Pascale is interacting with all these artists to try to get some information out of them about her father’s painting, which included extensive discussions about the nature of art and the role of the critic and I was bored. As far as I could tell, they didn’t serve the romance. 

Now, the race dynamics in this book were interesting. Gayle talks about the race of her protagonists a lot (she reminds the reader that Pascale has cocoa-colored skin three times in the first 90 pages)—and does a lot hedging, showing the reader that Pascale and Devlin are exceptional, so that the reader will accept that there might have been two Black people at a fancy ball in Paris in 1865. Also Devlin made his money running goods to the Confederacy during the Civil War, and I really don’t know how I feel about that (reminder: he is a Black man). I don’t know that the way Gayle dealt with the race of her characters was wrong, necessarily, but it was very striking, and very different from the way I expect that an author writing in 2022 would present a Black character in that same setting.

I am working on not reading books that are not bringing me joy, so I DNFed this one. Maybe I’ll return to it someday—it had some fascinating components that would be interesting to really dig into and analyze. But if I’m just reading for fun? Nah.

Buy Now: Amazon


Want to join us in tackling you TBR? Next month’s theme is Blue Collar.

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.