Review: The Countess Conspiracy

The Countess ConspiracyTitle: The Countess Conspiracy
Author: Courtney Milan
Page Count: 309
Publication: December 2013
Series: The Brothers Sinister #3

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other Reviews: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books)

Reviewed by Natalie

Though this is the third book in the Brothers Sinister series, you don’t need to read the other two to enjoy it. I did not, though I do want to after reading this.
Sebastian and Violet have a wonderful romance. Violet is a scientific genius, but because she’s a woman, she cannot present her ideas. Over the last few years, Sebastian has been doing it for her until he gets tired of lying. To say Violet doesn’t like this turn of events is putting it mildly. Science is the only thing she’s truly passionate about; with good reason. Her backstory unfurls slowly throughout the book.
It was agony getting the bits and pieces of why Violet is the way she is, but when you find out, it’s a doozy. She’s utterly oblivious as to how Sebastian truly feels about her. He has to tell her to her face. Winning her over is by no means an easy task, but Sebastian is the perfect hero for the job.
I love romances; I mean who doesn’t love a happily ever after? Sebastian and Violet’s is a different level of romance for me. It was a beautiful and at times heartbreaking story. I loved every page of it.
BIPOC · Romance

Review: Christmas in Rose Bend

Title: Christmas in Rose Bend
Author: Naima Simone
Page Count: 416
Publication: October 2021
Series: Rose Bend #2

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly)

So it seems I’m in the very much the minority on this book.

I did not finish it because it felt like the emphasis was on Nessa’s loins rather than the story of grief, loss, and redemption. Also, the big secret revealed in book one is withheld here with vague comments about Nessa’s “terrible secret.” This is book two of the series, we should have the secret told to us and watch as the ramifications unfold but no, we’re not told what this “terrible secret is in the first 25% of the book, just Nessa’s moaning about it existing. While I’m sure the secret would probably be given to us at some point, I read another review of this book and the secret was dropped. LIke I said, book two in a series, the early chapters of the book should play a quick catch-up for those just tuning in.

So the slow burn wasn’t really a slow burn but a pound in your face hot sexy times that began on page 3. this reminded me a lot of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita the Vampire Slayer series where the up to around book eight or nine, we have a paranormal mysteries going on with some romance and sex thrown in, which is what I totally signed up for but in the later books, Antia couldn’t move a foot without banging someone and it got tiresome.

I don’t like tiresome in my sex scenes and unfortunately with Christmas at Rose Bend, that’s what I got which bored me to tears. The editing was also super choppy which was distracting. I’m not sure if it was because what I read was an ebook ARC but I found it took away from the writing.

I saw a conversation on Twitter recently amongst various authors that as a general rule, authors shouldn’t clutch pearls if a reader doesn’t like their book because often times, the reader will read something else by the author that may appeal to them. I find this way with Simone. I found enough in her snark and sass, which I always appreciate, to read her other stuff. But truth be told, this book just didn’t fulfill the promise it offered up.

LGTBQI+ · Romance

Review: Boyfriend Material

Title: Boyfriend Material
Author: Alexis Hall
Page Count: 432
Publication: July 2020
Series: Boyfriend Material #1

[Amazon | Indie Bound | BN | Find at your local library]

(Other reviews: Publisher’s Weekly, EW)

Reviewed by Natalie

The premise is a little thin: Luc “needs” a boyfriend to get back donations for his company’s big annual event. It’s a bit silly, BUT the rest of the story?


Luc is a mess; he’s beyond a mess. His only stability are his friends (who he neglects very badly) and his mom. He has no belief in himself at all and trusts no one. Then there’s Oliver. Oliver is a straight-laced barrister. Luc’s complete opposite. They agree to fake date for Luc’s event and for Oliver’s parent’s upcoming anniversary party. We all know how fake dating works in this type of book: real feelings start to grow. There is so much about this book to like: Oliver’s amazing friends, the witty banter between Luc and Oliver, and of course, the romance. You root for these two through the entire book. They are perfect for each other; they just don’t know it! I found myself laughing out loud at some of the banter between the two heroes.

This is one of those books that fills you with happiness for days after reading it. I highly recommend it!


LGTBQI+ · Paranormal · Romance

Review: Payback’s a Witch

Title: Payback’s a Witch
Author: Lana Harper
Page Count: 352
Publication: October 2021
Series: Thistle Grover Witches #1

[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(Other reviews: Library Journal, BookPage, and Kirkus)

I continue on with my witchy books! It’s the spoopy season so shoot me.

Full of sass, sexy, and humour, Payback’s a Witch tickled me from both ends and I mean that in a very good way. The writing was slow at first and after the rush of The Ex Hex, that could be understandable. The Ex Hex throws you headlong into the story and there are no actions spared

Not so much with Payback’s a Witch and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We meet Emmy Harlow as she comes back to town for once in a generation tournament between the four witch families in Thistle Grove after a self-imposed exile in Chicago. In Chicago, she has not only become what she believes is herself but also her magic has waned and doesn’t fuck with her life like it does in Thistle Grove. But once she finds out that the man-boy who broke her heart has also broken the heart of two other witchy friends, hell is about to get loose.

But I must discuss what most reviews seem to want to not discuss: the hot sex, slow, and steamy build of a sexy relationship between Emmy and Talia. Harper builds this delicious slow and sexy world between Emmy and Talia that you can feel the spark from the page. You want to be either Emmy or Talia (it doesn’t matter much who) and be a part of that coupling. You do, you really do.

I’m not sure why the queer romance between Emmy and Talia is rarely mentioned in reviews as the book has gotten starred reviews around the publishing world. It’s not gratuitous. Emmy doesn’t come back to Thistle Grove “OH HOO I IZ A LESBIAN” and Talia isn’t stereotyped either. They are just hot (and fall in love) with each other and that’s what most important. I’m so, so thrilled that while we’re not given much of Emmy’s past relationships and that falling for a girl was just as natural as drinking coffee. Representation is important.

I also really liked how the world felt real. The witchy behaviour and the paranormal lives didn’t feel artificial or over the top. That’s always a concern for me when I read paranormal books that the world isn’t believable. Does magic exist? Sure, why not. There is no real reason why it can’t exist. There is so much about our world we have yet to understand or seems magical so that if people can cast spells and make inanimate things talk, why not?

From Bad to Cursed, book #2 in the Thistle Grove Witches series, comes out in May 2022 and I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty impatient. I read the first chapter and I was like, “Goddammit!” when the sample ended. I hope to god the ARC shows up on Netgalley or there will be hell to pay.

The tl;dr: Read it. Read it for the fun. Read it for the HEA (which Harper dangles at first in front of us). Read it for the romance. Just read it.

Paranormal · Romance

Review: The Ex Hex

Title: The Ex Hex
Author: Erin Sterling (Rachel Hawkins)
Page Count: 320
Publication: September 2021

[Amazon | Indie Bound | BN | Find it at your local library]

(More serious reviews: Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. Not to be confused with the band Ex Hex.)

Reading this book has been a blur.

First, I’ve been following Rachel Hawkins / Erin Sterling on Twitter for some time so I have must have read something by her to follow her and her tweets are entertaining. (Also, this is how I follow most authors and journalists and then discover later on I cannot remember how I found them. This is not Hawkins (nee Sterling).)

Second, I saw The Ex Hex tweet promoted by another author that Hawkins (nee Sterling) maybe retweeted? Or I saw it in the wild? Nevertheless, when I read the description, I knew this book had to be mine.

(BTW, I am the proud owner of having library cards through three different systems and the average wait time is about 12 weeks per system.)

Paranormal romances can go in a variety of different ways: some bad (I’m looking at you Laurell K Hamilton and Stephenie Meyer) or good (hello J.R. Ward and Charlaine Harris). There really is no defining rule of what makes a great or awful story. You want charisma and heat between the characters, a fetching storyline that isn’t so up in itself you need note cards and sharpies to keep track, and a believable world.

This is why I love The Ex Hex. It’s got a pinch of Practical Magic mixed in with some Sabrina the Teenage Witch with the fun of Bewitched and a bit like Harry Potter but when Hawkins (nee Sterling) described it as “Hocus Pocus (But They F***),” which you know, is what sold me.

I’m a sucker for cozy romances – like cozy mysteries but with more skin and sex and less Jessica Fletcher. Hell, anything cozy. One day I want to own a bookstore in the Cotswolds with a sexy man at my beck and call while I solve mysteries in my free time. Alas, that is not to be but with books, I can be anywhere and do anything I want.

This is where The Ex Hex comes in. A fun romp of a witch who after a bad breakup, preforms what she doesn’t think is a spell but is a spell on the ex she has just dumped. Nearly a decade later, they are thrown back together when he comes back to Graves Glen, GA for Founder’s Day to give a speech and all that rot. But the curse is real! And Rhys is fucked and not really in a good way (well, he and Vivi do get it on considerably but that is later in the story). They must lift a curse and do it by the end of Halloween. Oh no! How will they survive?

The Ex Hex made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. I wanted nothing more to snuggle up on a hot cocoa by my side as I read. I could feel the whispering of fall at the back of my neck as I took in this charming story. My basic bitch was coming out in full force and look, I’m a basic bitch and this fills all the notches.

This book isn’t about a girl not understanding who she is, Vivi knows exactly who she is, or that she’s an underdog, she isn’t. It does fall in with a second time around romance trope which is fine when done well and here it is. The sex scenes build and it’s not gratuitous, which is a relief. Rhys isn’t a superhero coming to swoop in to save the day or a bad boy except Rhys has very good hair that does That Thing which makes VIvi swoon. They are just two normal people crushing on each other hard and have a task to complete.

The ending is nice and tidy (mostly) and the couple gets their HEA. The only thing I would ding this book on is that while Hawkins (nee Sterling) does a great job of blending in Rhys’ Welshness with Vivi’s southern charm, there isn’t enough of a backstory as to WHY his ancestor left Wales and came to America and that is very relevant to the story as the relationship between the two families, Rhys’ and Vivi’s, goes way back since the time of the town’s founding. So, why did Penhallow leave Wales? Why is Rhys’ father a dick? What’s up with Wells and Bowen? And what about Gwyn and Aunt Elaine? Hawkins (nee Sterling) has created a believable world where she can play around with the other characters. She gave them relatable and whole lives that intersect with Vivi and Rhys and are formed and not cookie cutter cut outs. Hawkins (nee Sterling) has written across many genres but I get the feeling here, and I’m probably not wrong, she had a lot of fun with this story and that there is much more in the world of Graves Glen in the future.

I also give points towards Hawkins (nee Sterling) using Welsh/British-isms (torch for flashlight; mate instead of dude). It is what has struck me about this book is she also pays attention to the culture she’s writing about and not just winging it.

Let’s cut to the chase: So dear reader, if you want a fast, fun, sassy, and enjoyable read with believable characters and setting, pick up The Ex Hex. I read the first half in one sitting before bed one night and I would have gone on if I hadn’t had to work in the morning. If that doesn’t sell you, you have a rotten and cold heart compatible with Rhys’ father Simon (the dick).