It's October book reviews time! And our #PHSBookReviews team had another corking collection of reads for us to add to our TBR piles.
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Hot Christmas Kisses by Joss Wood
“You’re just a temporary indulgence.”
On and off again, Matt Edwards and DJ Winston share hot sex, hotel rooms—and nothing else.
But now Matt is suddenly in DJ’s real life, where she’s not sentimental about anything. Can Christmas turn their fantasy into forever?
Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Megan
Dylan-Jane Winston is a Christmas cynic, fiercely independent and controlled, except for when she has a rendezvous with Matt Edwards. Their random schedules allow them to meet several times a year for steaming hot sex. But after years of this ongoing fling, duty calls and Mart ends up in DJ's home town for a month. As he seeks her out, she pushes him away, claiming they can't work in real life because he's a fantasy, a weekend treat not meant to be in her everyday life. However, as DJ begins to open up to her friends, Matt, and to herself, she realizes that not only is Matt her fantasy, they can work in real life and Christmas does indeed hold some magic after all.
Joss Wood uses the familiar plot of a Christmas cynic who finds the magic of the holiday by falling in love. While the plot is definitely not new, Woods brings the story to life with characters that you can relate to and her writing allows you to to truly feel their emotions. DJ is a successful woman who hides behind walls to protect herself due to her hurtful past and is scared to let anyone close. Matt is a top notch lawyer who wants to treat every relationship like he's still in the courtroom to avoid his past hardships. While they discover how to communicate, they also discover they can overcome their pasts to have a future together. Woods makes their journey relatable to everyone and adds supporting characters you want to hug and cheer for along the way like Callie, DJ's second mom who's on her own journey of self discovery. Hot Christmas Kisses is a book you won't put down; you'll cry, laug and cheer for the characters through the whole story, making it feel like you're right there with them. Overall, a fantastic read to make you believe in the magic of Christmas all over again.
In the Vanishers' Palace by Aliette de Bodard
In a ruined, devastated world, where the earth is poisoned and beings of nightmares roam the land... A woman, betrayed, terrified, sold into indenture to pay her village's debts and struggling to survive in a spirit world. A dragon, among the last of her kind, cold and aloof but desperately trying to make a difference.
When failed scholar Yên is sold to Vu Côn, one of the last dragons walking the earth, she expects to be tortured or killed for Vu Côn's amusement.
But Vu Côn, it turns out, has a use for Yên: she needs a scholar to tutor her two unruly children. She takes Yên back to her home, a vast, vertiginous palace-prison where every door can lead to death. Vu Côn seems stern and unbending, but as the days pass Yên comes to see her kinder and caring side. She finds herself dangerously attracted to the dragon who is her master and jailer. In the end, Yên will have to decide where her own happiness lies—and whether it will survive the revelation of Vu Côn’s dark, unspeakable secrets...?
Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Ali
There's something haunting about de Bodard's lyrical prose that stays with you long after In the Vanishers' Palace ends. The novel is a diverse, f/f retelling of Beauty and the Beast, with Beauty as an impoverished scholar, and the Beast as a dragon living in a palace which defies explanation. But it's more than that. There's a deft handling of how being an outsider within your own community leaves an indelible mark on how you view the world, and a longing for acceptance between both of the protagonists which genuinely moved me.
Our Beauty, Yên, becomes a tutor for teenage creatures in the dragon Vu Côn's palace, and there's a wonderful parallel with both the fairytale and the Disney version of the story. I particularly adored the library scene, which brought home once again how a magical library is still on the list of things that would complete my life. Most importantly, the love story is moving. So much so, it actually moved me to tears. Without a doubt, one for the keeper shelf.
The Butterfly Bride by Vanessa Riley
Frederica Burghley wants to be married by Yuletide. Or else her father will set her up with one of his friends. The bonbon-loving illegitimate daughter of the duke wants to choose her own husband. Advertising in the newspaper seems like the way to go. But a sinister response, with threats against her life, leads her to enlist the help of her very handsome, dear friend Jasper Fitzwilliam, Lord Hartwell.
A father and widower, Jasper is not only tasked with keeping Frederica safe but also with helping his vibrant friend choose a suitable husband. The more he tries to keep the ever-surprising woman alive and find her a good match, the more Jasper realizes he cares for her. The two friends risk their lives for each other, so they should be able to risk their feelings for a chance at a deep and true love together. But he's not looking for marriage and she's not looking for convenience.
Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Frankie
This is book three in the Advertisements for Love series, and just like the previous books, can be read as a stand-a-lone. Frederica is desperate to marry for Yuletide, but she wants to marry someone of her own choosing, not a man her father has chosen for her, which is why she puts an advertisement in the newspaper for a husband. This plan doesn’t exactly go how she thought it would (after seeing her two best friends do the same and end up living happily ever after, Frederica wants the same thing), instead her advertisement is answered with a sinister reply that shocks her to her core. She is threatened and one night her room is raided by an unknown person wanting to do her harm. So, she enlists the help of her closest and most trusted friend, Jasper. He willingly helps the tantalising Frederica, but his feelings for her are stronger than expected, and he soon finds that keeping her safe from the unknown threat, as well as helping her find a husband, proves more difficult then he thought it would be.
Can Jasper and Frederica find out who is trying to harm her? But more importantly will they finally succumb to their growing mutual feelings for one and other?
Ms Riley has pulled another winner out of the hat. This is a beautifully written, touching and original romance full of twists and turns which will keep the reader turning the page. A thoroughly enchanting tale I would highly recommend.
A Suggestion of Scandal by Catherine Kullmann
If only he could find a lady who was tall enough to meet his eyes, intelligent enough not to bore him and who had that certain something that meant he could imagine spending the rest of his life with her.
As Sir Julian Loring returns to his father’s home, he never dreams that that lady could be Rosa Fancourt, his half-sister Chloe’s governess. Rosa is no longer the gawky girl fresh from a Bath academy whom he first met ten years ago. Today, she intrigues him. But just as they begin to draw closer, she disappears—in very dubious circumstances. Julian cannot bring himself to believe the worst of Rosa, but if she is blameless the truth could be even more shocking, with far-reaching repercussions for his own family, especially Chloe.
Later, driven by her concern for Chloe, Rosa accepts an invitation to spend some weeks at Castle Swanmere, home of Julian’s maternal grandfather. The widowed Meg Overton has also been invited and she is determined not to let the extremely eligible Julian slip through her fingers again.
When a ghost from Rosa’s past returns to haunt her, and Meg discredits Rosa publicly, Julian must decide where his loyalties lie.
Rated: 5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Rachel
In A Suggestion of Scandal, Rosa Fancourt has been a Governess to the Loring family over the past ten years. With her pupil Chloe coming of age, she has been given notice her services will no longer be needed and that a tutor will take over to help prepare the girl for her coming out. Enjoying her last moments with Chloe, Rosa is reunited with Sir Julian Loring, Chloe’s half-brother, during a house party the family is holding. Julian has spent much of the last several years attending to his own affairs. Meeting again not quite as strangers, Rosa and Sir Julian strike up a tentative friendship, united by their love for Chloe. Soon things take a turn for the worse when Chloe and Rose come upon Lady Loring (Chloe’s mother) in a compromising position with someone other than Chloe’s father. An altercation occurs and events are twisted to make it seem like Rosa was the one having the liason. As these events unfold, both Rosa and Julian start to look at each other as more than mere acquaintances .
I thought the book was very well written and was both shocked and delighted by some of the twists and turns. The author represented the time period very well, making sure to emphasize social graces. All of the characters were well written and I really liked the pairing of Julian and Rosa. I loved that Julian gave Rosa the benefit of the doubt even when certain events were not looking good for her. He was willing to accept her regardless of her past and family connections.
Overall, I really loved this book and couldn’t put it down. I highly recommend it.
Healing His Medic by Nana Prah
Doctor Comfort Djan is looking for salvation after a tragic accident, which takes her to deprived regions where her skills heal the helpless. Until Fate thrusts her as a medic on board a West African military coastal protection ship. Proving herself to the male-only crew is nothing compared to being near one intense naval officer who has her feeling something other than her survivor's guilt.
Commander Akin Solarin wants nothing more than to do his job, especially when his medic's temporary replacement turns out to be a disconcerting woman who pushes all his buttons. He runs a tight ship, and doesn't need captivating and efficient yet aloof Comfort around to keep his heart-rate in semi-permanent overdrive.
Neither can deny the attraction between them, but navigating uncharted personal waters may be the least of their problems when confronted with bold pirate attacks and other vicious unknown dangers onboard the frigate. And when Comfort's life gets on the line, Akin knows he will do anything to save his medic and heal her battered heart in the process.
Rated: 3 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Laura
The pacing of this book was a little too fast for my personal taste. Although the reader is launched straight into the action, which is a positive, I prefer a slower build up between the characters. They each face their own challenges and try to fight their instant attraction to one another but overall it just felt a little rushed and like there wasn't much context. It is definitely worth a read, especially if you prefer faster paced romances but for me, the chance to get to know the characters a little better creates a relationship between reader and characters which makes the story more enjoyable and satisfying.
Having said that, the settings of hospitals, naval ships and Ebola ravaged African cities gave the plot an edge of danger, the characters were likeable and their attraction simmered beneath a simple but effective storyline which made the story enjoyable.
The Good Sister by Rachael Stewart
He wasn't hers to love...but her heart doesn't care...
When Isla Evans agrees to switch lives with her rising star of a twin for three weeks, she has no idea the move will thrust her into the same bed as her teenage celebrity heartthrob, Bradley King. Trapped there at her sister’s request, she gives her desire free reign and finds herself falling hard and fast.
And she’s not alone.
Bradley wants a wife to tick all the boxes, save for one: love. It’s not part of the deal, never was, never will be. But when he returns home early to find his hopeful-fiancée behaving all sorts of different, he likes it. A lot. Suddenly, he wants a real marriage, with all the trimmings, and he will stop at nothing until he gets it.
But this Hollywood HEA faces one big hurdle—she’s not who he thinks she is…
Rated: 4 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Jill
When Isla's identical twin sister, Carrie, needs a vacation from her Hollywood life, she decides to be a good sister and cover for her. But Carrie's life has a few surprises Isla never expected: starting with her Hollywood actor crush waking up in bed with her and wondering why she was avoiding answering his proposal! Obviously overwhelmed at her sister's insistence he can't know Isla is covering for Carrie, with her sister's permission, she decides to let her fantasies take over.
I loved the writing in this book. It was smooth, perfectly paced, and sexy. The dual POV is fun, getting to see a frantic, conflicted Isla as well as Bradley's point of view as he suddenly finds this "new" Carrie to be an improvement on the woman he knew before. An enjoyable read.
NY Doc Under the Northern Lights by Amy Ruttan
Escaping the big city…
...for love under Icelandic skies
When surgeon Betty Jacinth’s heart is broken once again, she takes a job in Iceland for a change of scenery. She expects cold weather—but not the frosty welcome she receives from gorgeous but brooding Dr Axel Sturlusson! Now father to his orphaned niece, Axel gradually thaws and a flame is ignited… But when Betty’s ex begs her to return can she make the right choice for love?
Rated: 4.5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Gwessie
Our heroine, duped by a dastardly former love, is seeking enlightenment and a much needed break from everything she currently faces daily. So she takes a break at her late father's friend's hospital, not knowing how much she is truly needed. Our brooding hero has his own demons to face, along with raising his beloved niece, and soon realises just how very much he needs Betty in their lives.
Having had a very recent stay in hospital myself, the patients' plight most definitely hit home, in the very best way. I truly loved this book; it's one of many by Amy I've read and, as always, she doesn't disappoint. I'd highly recommend it to anyone who loves romance, regardless of whether they've read one in a medical setting. My only quibble is I wish the word count was higher, as I'm a greedy reader and love is, after all, the best medicine!
An Unexpected Christmas Baby by Tara Taylor Quinn
She’s not looking for the love of her life…
Tamara Owens has been tapped to discover who’s been stealing from her family business. Suspect number one: tantalising top trader Flint Collins, who’s suddenly thrust into fatherhood when his orphaned baby sister arrives. And Flint is soon under Tamara’s spell…
Rated: 4.5 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Ali
I read a lot of romance, and a lot of the time I read it for that soft and squishy feeling you get inside. Quinn gives you that feeling, but you have work for it! Her writing packs an emotional punch, due to the complexity and depth of her characters' inner conflict, and it often breaks your heart before it mends it.
But isn't that what we love about romance novels the best? We trust an author enough to place ourselves in their hands and follow their characters through trauma, PTSD, grief and so many other emotions before we get to that all important ever after. One of the rings I love the most about Quinn's writing, is that the fact that her characters really do deserve to have a happy ending. In a world where love and positive endings aren't always in play—and sometimes don't exist—I think it's important to see characters overcome individual struggles to get that happy ever after.
Emotionally intense, and well worth the journey!
A Miracle on Hope Street by Emma Heatherington
Can a single act of kindness change a life forever?
To many people, Ruth Ryans has everything: the perfect job, a beautiful home and a loving family. But as Christmas approaches, Ruth feels lonelier than ever.
Then Ruth meets Michael. A man who she showed kindness to during his darkest moment. That one single act, his miracle, helped change his life forever.
Ruth decides to make this Christmas the most perfect one ever, opening up her home to those who need her help—the lonely, the lost and the ignored.
Actions speak louder than words and Ruth Ryans’ kindness will create little miracles for everyone … including her own battered heart.
Rated: 3 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Sue
Agony aunt Ruth Ryans feels she ought to be flattered when people tell her she’s one in a million. After all, from the outside it looks as if she has it all: a wonderful, fulfilling career, a beautiful home and a great social life. But looks can be deceptive and Ruth has been achingly lonely since her beloved father died the previous Christmas. And she doesn’t want to be one in a million because it means she’s not ‘the one in a million to anyone’. A telling phrase that sums up perfectly the sadness of being lonely.
Emma Heatherington’s A Miracle on Hope Street is a stereotype-busting seasonal romance. Sure, the developing relationship between Ruth and former down-and-out Michael is pivotal to the plot; but it takes second place to an exploration of the crippling effects of loneliness and abandonment and Ruth’s growing realisation the kind words of advice and comfort she offers her clients DO matter. However, as Ruth discovers, after a spontaneous gesture of generosity prompts her to give a beggar a wad of cash, kind deeds matter even more.
Heatherington has written a wonderfully life-affirming and heart-warming story. It’s a little bit clunky in places—it seems to take Ruth forever and ever to decide to meet up with the mother who abandoned her as a child—but ultimately this is a sweet story with some important messages. And, maybe, like Ruth, more of us should start paying it forward with acts of kindness.
Two Hearts, One Stone by Leslie Scott
Horse trainer Stone Dempsey’s life is all about the ride—with horses and women. He uses his equine talents to impress the country club set and earn money for Smoky Mountain Reining Horses. When his drug-addicted sister deposits her sick baby on his doorstep, he’s suddenly saddled with real responsibility.
Dr. Emmersyn Cole’s goal of starting a practice in her favorite place on earth is finally coming to fruition and she is not going to be sidetracked. Everything is going great until Stone swaggers into her life, half-dressed with a smile that could melt her insides. She's determined to keep her distance…until he rushes into her grandfather’s home, clutching a feverish baby, terrified and vulnerable, and her heart’s hard shell begins to crack.
In only a few short weeks, Stone’s wayward heart suddenly relies on two women—one who needs him—and one that he might not be able to live without.
Rated: 1 Pink Hearts Reviewed by: Tamara
After reading the description, I was anxious to start reading this book; the narrative was promising and I was really looking forward to it. The last few books I've read have been cowboy-related and I thought I'd got lucky scoring another one with hunks wearing Stetson, wranglers and boots. Unfortunately, I did not get the fix I was looking for. The characters were a little shallow, with nothing that made them stand in what was a simply told story. The theme was attractive and the final product had potential, but the story lacked the expected depth and emotion.
I believe in both lust and love at first sight and don't judge them when characters jump into bed with each straight away. But when this happens, at some point their emotions should confuse things while the desire between them remains palpable. As it is, Stone and Emmersyn are two very different people and the only thing they seemed to have in common is riding horses and a dose of lust, so without the required depth of emotion, it's hard to believe their relationship will last.
What are you reading this month? Have you recently read a book you think everyone should hunt down? Let us know in the comments or join the PHS community on Social Media using #amreading And authors, if you want us to review your book, we are now open for October submissions! You can check out the guidelines here.