Jessie Mihalik

Review: Eclipse the Moon by Jessie Mihalik

02:30

Title: Eclipse the Moon (Starlight's Shadow #2)
Author: Jessie Mihalik
Publication Date: 12 July 2022
Genres: Sci-Fi Romance

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads

My rating: 3 Stars


Blurb

Kee Ildez has been many things: hacker, soldier, bounty hunter. She never expected to be a hero, but when a shadowy group of traitors starts trying to goad the galaxy’s two superpowers into instigating an interstellar war, Kee throws herself into the search to find out who is responsible—and stop them.

Digging up hidden information is her job, so hunting traitors should be a piece of cake, but the primary suspect spent years in the military, and someone powerful is still covering his tracks. Disrupting their plans will require the help of her entire team, including Varro Runkow, a Valovian weapons expert who makes her pulse race.

Quiet, grumpy, and incredibly handsome, Varro watches her with hot eyes but ignores all of her flirting, so Kee silently vows to keep her feelings strictly platonic. But that vow will be put to the test when she and Varro are forced to leave the safety of their ship and venture into enemy territory alone.

Cut off from the rest of their team, they must figure out how to work together—and fast—because a single misstep will cost thousands of lives.

Review 


This second installment of the series gives us space adventures galore but I was underwhelmed by the romance.

The romance conflict hinges on the heroine lusting after hero but thinking he is avoiding her while he is avoiding her because her is attracted to her but feels he can't protect her the way he has too. It is messy and based on a very antiquated sense of chivalry and obligation which was difficult for me to reconcile with the hyper modern space world the story is set in.

I feel the Valovians with all there psychic powers and paranormal abilities are similar to Nalini Singh's psys which I don't mind in principle but the similarity did stand out to me.

I liked Varro for the most part though his sense of guilt and failure over impossible tasks he set to himself became too much. It made sense initially but then it became annoying as it happened over and over again.

Kee was nice enough, a bit your stereotypical hacker girl - a bit wild, a bit loner, smart but not as physically strong as her teammates which made her insecure. In her personal relationship she felt she was too much to her lover - too forward, too emotional (things she has been told by previous partners) and that made her guarded and worried that it would be the same for him.

They kept getting to try to be together only to be pulled apart either by cuircustmace (they are amid a wild chase with the bad guys in space) or by their own feelings of guilt / sense of obligation.

While I enjoyed and was fully invested in the suspense and adventure elements of the story, I felt the romantic arc was unevenly paced. It is not closed door romance but the sex scene (explicit) only happens after 90% mark. I would not describe it as slow burn but rather as a kind of delayed gratification and didn't work for me. Out of the blue we get some domination/submission dynamic thrown in - it honestly felt like Kee and Varro became different people, not the characters I have followed along in the story so far. The romance didn't flow smoothly for me, too many elements in it didn't fit with each other. Of course, this is all subjective interpretation but it's how I read it and why I didn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to.

I have come to realize that Jessie Mihalik's book are more about the space adventures than the romance but when I find the romance unevenly paced and not convincing, I don't know if I will continue with this series. Depends on the MCs, I still might give the next book a go.

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Contemporary Romance

Review: For You & No One Else by Roni Loren

02:30

Title: For You & no One Else (Say Everything #3)
Author: Roni Loren
Date of publication: 5 July 2022
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Author's links:

My rating: 4 Stars



Blurb 

She has the perfect life…and it’s a perfect lie.

Behind the careful fa├žade, she’s struggling:

To feel like she fits in. To find her true voice.

Now, finally, she’s ready to start living her own story.

Eliza Catalano has the perfect life. So what if it actually looks nothing like the story she tells online? As a therapist, it’s part of her job to look like she has all the answers, right? But when Eliza ends up as a viral “Worst Date Ever” meme, everything in her Instagram-filtered world begins to crumble.

Enter the most obnoxiously attractive man she's ever met, and a bet she can't resist: if she swears off social media for six months, Beck Carter’ll teach her the wonders of surviving the "real world." No technology, no dating apps, no pretty filters, no BS.

It seems like the perfect deal—she can lay low until her sudden infamy passes, meet some interesting new people, and maybe even curate this experience into a how I quit the online dating racket book along the way. But something about Beck’s raw honesty speaks to Eliza in ways she never expected. She knows he’s supposed to be completely hands-off…but as complex feelings grow and walls come tumbling down, rough-around-the-edges Beck may be exactly what Eliza needs to finally, truly face herself—and decide who she really wants to be.


Review 

This is the final book in the current series of moving and emotional contemporary romances that are not afraid to tackle heavy subjects. This is how I discovered Roni Loren, my first book of hers was The One You Fight For from her series The Ones Who Got Away who focuses on lives of school shooting surviours finding HEA year later.

This current series though lighter in tone, also explores serious issues - mental health, disability, depression and suicidal ideation, childhood and adult trauma.

I appreciate how the author treat her characters with care and empathy and doesn't exploit their issues for sensational value only. Mind you, I am speaking from an outsider's perspective here and can't say how ownvoices readers would feel about these series. I would definitely recommend checking more reviews and especially CWs before picking any of the books.

This one, I can say, is my favourite in the series. It is a romance featuring an older heroine and a younger hero who try a friends-with-benefits relationship while she is searching offline for Mr. Right.

I liked Eliza a lot. I can't comment of how realistic her representation as a therapist but I found her relatable in her personal life - an intense sense of loneliness after the loss of her parents, longing for a long-term partner, following a specific plan in life both personal and professional.

I found the element of performance on social media and in real life relationship very interesting. She kept putting a happy face online and on dates with the goal to impress, to win people over up to the point that she forgot who she was and what made her happy.

The social media and our presence on it is becoming very noticeably present in contemporary romance but sometimes I feel it overtakes the plot. This was not the case here, mostly because she took a SM break after a non-consented video of her was leaked and went viral going viral for all the wrong reasons. And because the other MC, Beck, was very much anti-SM. The NoPho parties he took her to were interesting and certainly unconventional but they struck me as a bit juvenile. While I liked Beckham a lot, he remained a mystery till the end. He came off as confident and very much in control of his life. He appeared sure of his priorities and life goals. Until he wasn't any more. It was his relationship with Eliza that was eye-opening for him.

There is a third act break up and both parties were to blame for it. They each violated the other person's trust in a way that is hard to forgive. Still I found the groveling and forgiveness scenes convincing and could see Eliza and Beck being together, trying a relationship.

Something that I liked in the series as a whole is the great friendships. Eliza had her friends by her side at all times, talking with them helped her reconsider what happily ever after could be for her and disentangle her own happiness from what society tells you happiness should look like.

It's the epilogue that is my main issue with the story. It was so over the top, a nice wrap up to the whole series but really unnecessary here. It was too conventional for the MCs, like after all the talk about different forms of HEA, they just got the most traditional one. Yes, it took a while and they worked hard for their HEA - he got the counseling he needed and she wrote the book she wanted to write but still it undermined the whole point the story was trying to make about the possibility of alternative HEA.

With this minor complaint in mind, I still would recommend the series if you are looing for contemporary romances with complicated characters finding love where least expected. These are rich, well built stories that don't shy away from heavy themes but ultimately leave us with hope and optimism for the future.

CW: religious cult, addiction (in the past), loss of parents in car accident (in the past), embarrassing video leaked out

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fantasy romance

Review: For the Throne by Hannah Whitten

02:30

Title: For the Throne (Wilderwood #2)
Author: Hannah Whitten
Genre/Themes: Fantasy, Gods and Monsters, Romance
Release Date: 07 June 2022

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads / Instagram

My rating: 5 Stars



Blurb 

The First Daughter is for the Throne
The Second Daughter is for the Wolf...

Red and the Wolf have finally contained the threat of the Old Kings but at a steep cost. Red's beloved sister Neve, the First Daughter is lost in the Shadowlands, an inverted kingdom where the vicious gods of legend have been trapped for centuries and the Old Kings have slowly been gaining control. But Neve has an ally--though it's one she'd rather never have to speak to again--the rogue king Solmir.

Solmir wants to bring an end to the Shadowlands and he believes helping Neve may be the key to its destruction. But to do that, they will both have to journey across a dangerous landscape in order to find a mysterious Heart Tree, and finally to claim the gods' dark, twisted powers for themselves.

Review

This is the second and final? book in the series and I can say I enjoyed it even more than the first one. It's closely connected with the first one to the point that I felt a little lost at the beginning. Would recommend reading the books back to back or at least re-reading the first one before picking this one (if your memory is bad as mine, that is).

This is a gorgeous, lush rather dark fantasy. The plot continues right where were left at the end of book 1. We get multiple POVs, parallel journeys of the sisters to save each other thus saving the world.

The Wilderwood is there but it is changed and Red's team spends most of its time outside of it. Neve is in the Shadowland, and wow, what a place it is - dark and violent, home of Gods and monsters. It tests bonds and shows the corruptive power of magic.

I found it really fascinating both from the point of view of actions and adventures and from the point of view of getting to know Neve and Solmir (as both of them but her in particular get to know themselves better). The exploration of monstrousness, inside us and in the world at large, was really well done and very interesting to me.

The romance between Solmir and Neve is true enemies to lovers, falling for a monster. The lines who is a monster and who is not get blurred all the time, they both are, neither of them is - it is up to reader to make their mind. I really liked the romance, very intense and dramatic. They start with hating each other, there is a lot of anger and hurt, but as their journey unfolds we see a tentative trust appearing, they save each other, literally and figuratively.

Red's journey has just as many twists and turns as Neve's. Her love with Eammon is secure and only grows stronger.

Overall I liked the supporting characters though I have to admit they paled in comparison with Neve and Red.

I loved the ending which I found fitting to the complexity of the story. Everyone gets their HEA/HFN but nothing is simple. The hurts run deep and it takes time and effort for them to heal but we get the possibility for happiness, the hope for a better world and this is exactly what I read romance for.

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CW: death, blood and some gore, violence,

Alexis Hall

Review: A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall

02:00

Title: A Lady for a Duke 
Author: Alexis Hall
Genre/Themes: historical romance / queer / trans heroine
Release Date: 24 May 2022

Author links: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads

My Rating: 5 Stars


Blurb 

When Viola Caroll was presumed dead at Waterloo she took the opportunity to live, at last, as herself. But freedom does not come without a price, and Viola paid for hers with the loss of her wealth, her title, and her closest companion, Justin de Vere, the Duke of Gracewood.

Only when their families reconnect, years after the war, does Viola learn how deep that loss truly was. Shattered without her, Gracewood has retreated so far into grief that Viola barely recognises her old friend in the lonely, brooding man he has become.

As Viola strives to bring Gracewood back to himself, fresh desires give new names to old feelings. Feelings that would have been impossible once and may be impossible still, but which Viola cannot deny. Even if they cost her everything, all over again.

Review 

Note: I am on friendly terms with the author on social media

Note 2: Alexis Hall's book usually touch me deeply and my reviews end up mostly personal reactions to the books rather than proper reviews and this one is no different.

Another gorgeous, gorgeous book by my favourite author!

This is a historical romance with a trans heroine that is pretty angsty and has dark moments but overall is hopeful and full of promise for happiness.

Viola has my heart from the start. Gracewood needed some time to grow and become the duke he was meant to be and I ended loving him as well. Together they are magic. Despite some hurts, despite the difficulties real poses in front of their happiness, they manage to achieve it.

The story was super angsty at the beginning things seem impossible - Gracewood has given up on life after losing his best friend at the battlefield. He is a disabled veteran, with serious childhood and war traumas, barely hanging onto life. Viola is a trans woman, a lady's companion to her sister-in-law, trying to find her place in a hostile world.

There is so much hurt and sadness between Viola and Gracewood, neither of them can a see a future for them, either as friends or as lovers. The deep love between best friends since childhood well into their adulthood grows into a romantic connection and sexual attraction and it was beautiful thing to see it developing on page.

This story is not about transphobia and I am so happy the author made that choice. Viola has a loving and supporting family. The focus was on her and how she navigates the world as a trans woman, rather than on how the world sees / reacts to her. These is no forced coming out, no gender-based violence, and I love that. The author shows the same kindness to Gracewood - his injury is a serious issue for him, his PTSD (undiagnosed and untreated at the time) causes him a lot of discomfort but we never really see other characters humiliating or degrading him over it.

The tension is high but all the physical violence is mostly in the past both for Viola and Gracewood. There is a fighting scene that was quite brutal but I felt it was balanced out by a number of tender moments (Viola and Gracewood dancing, her shaving him).

I rarely comment on sex scenes in my reviews but I want to say how much I liked the one in this book. It was so fitting to the characters, something that I don't find very often in romance. They were the same Viola and Gracewood that see in the rest of the story, they didn't magically transform into someone else. There was desire and need but also hesitancy and trepidation. They talked things through, explored each other, it was beautiful and touching.

I felt that despite the angst and trauma this was a very romantic romance - tender and intimate, the love confessions were amazing, his marriage proposal was all tenderness and care and forever kind of love with a touch of humour.

I appreciate the story as a whole with all the side characters. Viola and Gracewood are two soulmates who find a way to the HEA they want in a world that is ostensibly not made for them. But from the start they have people in their lives that love and support them and show them that happiness is a possibility. Badger and Louise are in happy marriage, Miranda finds a way to live the life she wants. I found all this very happy making and hopeful, exactly what I want in my romances.

The story ends with the perfect epilogue. Viola gets what she wants - marriage and children and a big sweeping love story.

CW: war trauma, violence, kidnapping, PTSD, war injury, drug abuse


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1001 nights

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah

02:30

Title: The Stardust Thief 
Author: Chelsea Abdullah
Date of publication: 17 May 2022
Genre / Themes: Fantasy / Jinns 

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Instagram / Goodreads

My rating: 5 Stars



Blurb 

Neither here nor there, but long ago…

Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.

With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.


Review

This is a debut adult fantasy inspired by 1001 Nights stories that I enjoyed a lot. It's an engaging adventure story, fast paced, entertaining, full of magic - jinns and ifrits and magical relics

The world building is outstanding, it transports right into the desert in a very real and very magical way. The desert with all its secrets and magic was like a living character in the story. The magic system is not overly complicated, it made sense to make and was easy to follow which is not always the case in high fantasy.

We have a group of different, even opposite characters brought together by the circumstances together on a quest through the desert. Aisha stood out to me with her loyalty and revenge that fueled her action in the story. She starts a a jinn hunter with a single focus on her mission only to learn things are not always what they seem to be, there is more than loyalty and revenge. There is friendship and trust and tentative even if elusive happiness.

Mazen is a gentle, bookish second son of the sultan, carrying his mother's love of love of stories, dreaming of adventure but being completely ill-suited for it - he is shy, pampered and protected. He doesn't become a fearless warrior but he learns how to go for things he wants, he learns to act instead of always hiding. He suffers betrayal and loss but gains friends (sort of) that he wants to keep safe and protect.

Loulie - is everything - a force of nature unstoppable, independent but also vulnerable, we see her completely defeated and in despair only to find her strength again, not without the help of Qadir. Her resilience is formidable but it's her vulnerability that broke me. Her grief, her sense of loss, of her own self included, was heart-breaking.

Qadir is a very interesting character in this story - Loulie's sullen bodyguard for those who don't know them but in truth he is her most trusted friend, her guardian. Yet, he remains mysterious, secretive almost till the end. Theirs was really the most interesting relationship for me. They are very close, they are each other's destiny (not in a romantic sense). He needs her as much as she needs him.

The story plays a lot with lies and deception, the different personas the characters assume and I loved seeing that the world is not just black and white, it's all about nuance. People have many sides, they are always changing and growing.

Another central element in the story was the storytelling itself, the power of words to shape our world. I have always loved 1001 Nights for the magic of the stories Scheherazade tells, they create worlds and save lives. Mazen is Scheherazade's son and he carries her heritage as a storyteller.

There is no cliffhanger but the ending made me excited for the sequel. The desert has so many more stories to tell. Mazen and Loulie's adventure is far from over.

CW: parental death, patricide, violence, torture

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