Penny Reid

Review: Beard with Me by Penny Reid

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Title: Beard with Me (Winston Brothers #6)
Author: Penny Reid
Publication Date: 16 Sept 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Humor, Romance

Author's links: WebsiteTwitterFacebookGoodreads

My rating: 4.5 Stars

Blurb 

‘Beard With Me’ is the origin story of Billy Winston and Scarlet St. Claire (aka Claire McClure) and is just the beginning of their epic love story.

No one is better at surviving than Scarlet St. Claire and making the best out of circumstances beyond her control is Scarlet’s specialty. In an apocalyptic situation, she’d be the last person on earth, hermitting like a pro, singing along to her CD Walkman, and dancing like no one is watching.

Scarlet is clever, Scarlet is careful, and Scarlet is smart . . . except when it comes to Billy Winston.

No one is better at fighting than Billy Winston and raging against his circumstances—because nothing is beyond his control—is Billy’s specialty. In an apocalyptic situation, he’d be the first person on earth to lead others to safety, overcome catastrophe, or die trying.

Billy is fearless, Billy is disciplined, and Billy is honorable . . . except when it comes to Scarlet St. Claire.

Review

It’s the start of Claire (here Scarlet) and Billy’s epic love story. This takes us back in time when they were teenagers and their love did not have a happy ending then. 

I loved it, even though I had some issues with it. It’s moving, angsty, with the final 10% being particularly intense and making me cry the whole time I was reading them. 

It’s told from dual POV and paints a very dark picture of their teen years - we see them both working hard on making the best of a very difficult situation. All that happens in this book explains who they have become as adults.

I loved seeing more of Cletus too and his own growth and change. Billy was amazing despite the mistakes he made. It was all done following a deep desire to care for everyone, to help, to support, to keep the people he loved safe from harm. 

Claire is really young here, only 14 years of age. She has been through so much in life already and that’s has made her distrustful and cautious. I liked her voice and I felt deeply for everything she was going through. 

As regards the romance, it was all about the magic of first love - the confusion,the thrill and anticipation coupled with doubts and trepidation at facing something for the first time. I liked how they worked out through their feelings for each other, starting for distrust, going through friendship and care to love and desire to be together.

At the same time despite it being kisses only and there was nothing graphic, I was disturbed by the way others sexualised Scarlet and the very descriptions of her desires/reactions made me uncomfortable. It’s likely a me thing but it was there and I didn’t like it. I was particularly bothered by Ben’s behaviour though I believe I was meant to feel that way about him and I am not hopeful about his actions towards Scarlet in the future. 

Another thing that bothered me and I want to draw specific attention to it is the author’s casual attitude towards CWs expressed in the beginning of the book. I have been a fan of Penny Reid’s since she published her first book but I can’t overlook how dismissive she was about CWs. This book deals with some very heavy subject matter and I believe readers deserve information about that before starting the book. I will list my CWs in the end of my review. 

This is somewhat spoilerish but it's important for me to mention it: the pregnancy and miscarriage plot didn’t quite work for me. It felt just a plot device and didn’t fit seamlessly in the story.

The ending was very emotionally heavy, not only because the MCs don’t get together but rather because we leave them when their lives are in complete shambles. I love the insight this story gives into why the Winston brothers and their sister end up the way they are when we met them in their own books. 

CW: child abuse, cutting, violence, severe beating, accidental pregnancy and miscarriage, parental neglect, underage drinking 

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Alix E. Harrow

Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

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Title: The Ten Thousand Doors of January 
Author: Alix E. Harrow
Genre /Tropes: Portal fantasy with romantic elements
Release Date: 10 September 2019

Author's links:

My rating: 5 Stars



Blurb 

In the early 1900s, a young woman embarks on a fantastical journey of self-discovery after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Review 

What a thrilling adventure this book has been. It’s a debut full length novel for the author and a truly magical fantasy, engagingly written and it had a huge impact on me. 

It's a portal fantasy about exploring other worlds and finding your place in them. There is a moving side love story which I absolutely enjoyed, there are even two of them if you ask me. 

I don't want to go into details of the plot, so I will focus more on what I loved and how this book made me feel. 

January is such a great character, I loved seeing her grow and change and become her own person. There are lots of adventures, some dark undertones but no true horror elements. 

At the heart of it for me this is a powerful story about love and wandering and storytelling. I feel I like I have highlighted most of the book, so many passages spoke to my heart - about the power of the words, the importance of change, the sense of (not)-belonging, love - between partners, in the family, among friends. 

The first half was somewhat slow-paced, more about setting the stage and the second half was full of adventure and action. There were lots of twists and turns to plot and found myself unable to put the book down. 

The writing is exquisite, it made me cry and broke my heart but also made me happy and hopeful. And that epilogue, it’s a thing of beauty. 

CW (as per the author and my own interpretation of the text): Abuse - physical and psychological; manipulation; violence against animals; forced hospitalization in mental hospital; mind control; racism; sexism; self-harm imagery (without intent to self-harm); violence; colonialism.

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Contemporary Romance

Review: Undercover by Rebecca Crowley

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Title: Undercover (London Phoenix #2)
Author: Rebecca Crowley
Genre /Tropes: Contemporary romance, journalist investigation
Release Date: 17 September 2019

Author's links:

My rating: 4 Stars

Blurb 

The assignment has a deadline, but does their relationship?

After almost ten years dodging bullets as a foreign correspondent, Asher Brody is struggling to find his place back in the U.K. – and in his family-run newspaper, the London Phoenix. He’s intent on proving he’s as committed as his brothers, even if it means putting on a suit and posh accent to investigate a high-ranking executive at an upscale retreat.

Ada Hunter wasted years trailing her ex-boyfriend, only for him to turn his back when her documentary career finally took off. Now she’s beating her own path, and it’s taking her all over the world. To secure funding for her next project, she takes a risky job with the Phoenix posing as broody-sexy Asher’s fake girlfriend – too good to be true.

They plan to spend a few days pretending to be a couple at a country estate before going their separate ways. But when bad weather strands them in the countryside, temptation develops into something more and the line between fantasy and reality becomes dangerously blurred. 

Review 

This is the second book in the London Phoenix series and I enjoyed it much more than the first book. I found the conflict more believable and really liked both MCs.

It starts pretty similarly to book 1 but this time the accidental hook-up was interrupted before it actually happened and led to some fake dating and surprise, surprise, love. 

There is an element of forced proximity in the romance and it worked really well for me. I liked how the MCs worked to get their goals and in the process helped each other.

Ada was pretty certain who she was, she had reasons not to want a relationship and to focus on her career at that time. Asher seemed to be at a different stage in his life, he wanted stability and permanence after years being a reporter in the field and after a painful break up with his ex. 

There was a reversal of the traditional roles here - the woman was confident and self-assured and didn't want a relationship; the man was having his doubts about who he was and what he wanted (a serious committed relationship, being settled in one place). He had to repeatedly remind himself that it was a fake relationship and they had a specific goal in mind, there was no room for feelings. 

The story reached a point where I knew one of them had to make a compromise and I wasn't sure who it would be and honestly, I didn't know whom I was rooting for to do it. I'm very happy with the ending where they found the right balance for things between them to work out in the long term. 

I liked the relationship between the three brothers, how they worked together in the newspaper and all the glimpses we got of them trying to be closer to each other, sticking together after the death of their mother, continuing some family traditions and establishing new ones of their own. 

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Alexis Hall

Review: Arden St. Ives series by Alexis Hall

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Review 

I got an ARC of the final book in the series, so I binge read all three books in a week. What an emotional journey this has been. As usual I find myself lost for words when it comes to reviewing Alexis Hall’s books, so this won't be a very eloquent or coherent review, I'm afraid. I tend to have a very emotional reaction to his stories which makes my reviews more personal than usual.

On the surface and judging by the titles ans covers this is a billionaire m/m romance but the more I read the more I saw it as a story about two people with troubled pasts find their ways to each other. A bildungsromans of sorts for Ardy in particular, but very much for Caspian too.

The story is told exclusively from Ardy's POV and I loved the easy flow and multitude of things going on that made me eager to keep reading in order to find out how it will end.

Something, Alexis Hall does really, really well in my opinion is the creation of characters who feel real, human, with flaws and strengths. And this was very much the case here. It's not just Ardy and Caspian but almost every minor character was interesting and I got engaged in their stories. 

I found Ardy so easy to relate to - we see him navigating University, graduation, first serious job, making new friendships and keeping close the old ones, first attempt at a serious relationship. And the pressure there was not because Caspian was a billionaire, it was because of who Caspian is- a trauma survivour riddled with guilt and shame, refusing to accept his past, desperately trying to be someone different than who he is. 

It's a very emotional story both for Ardy and Caspian. Lots of mistakes get made and it's one of the things I particularly liked int he story. The way none of the characters are perfect and they don't always know the right thing to do/say but Ardy is very keen to listen and to learn, Caspian is more reluctant but still ready to make sincere apologies and amends for his mistakes. Even Nathaniel whom I got hate at some point despite understanding the terrible position he found himself to be, so even he is not malicious and only had the best intentions and is ready to admit he has been wrong/misguided in his approach to everything. 

I want to say a few words how trauma is handled in this series. It's not there for shock value or for tragedy p0rn, it's presented a complex issue that needs professional handling, one that affects the deepest corners of one's soul. There is no easy way to deal with it and no magic peen can cure it.

On that note, I am very happy to say that despite the heavy emoptional content of the books none of it due to queerphobia. The issues the characters deal with have nothing to do with them being gay. And the books are so effortlessly queer, it's a joy to read. No token marginalisation, no fetishising, lots of queer characters interacting in multitude of ways - as friends, lovers, in professional capacity. 

I also want to mention how much I loved Ardy's family and how important I found the episode with his biological father. It was disturbing but also very much needed to show a different aspect of Ardy's personality. We get a first-hand look at how powerful manipulation can be, how dangerous people like Ardy's father can be and how Ardy is noting like that.

Caspian and Ardy spent most of book 3 apart, they are both involved with other people, they cheat on them. It was a wild ride, I cried and laughed and wanted to hug them and make it all better for everyone. But I also see how they needed that time apart, how it was important for them to work through their issues on their own before trying to be together. Because we know they can be good together, we saw that already in the previous book.

All in all, I love how Alexis Hall takes apart the conventions of the romance genre and re-arranges them to come up with an unforgettable romance. It's nothing like I have read before, yet it's very much a tropey, swoon-worthy romance.

Just a couple of words on the supporting characters, Ellery, Bellerose, Nik, Nathaniel, George - they are all colourful and unique and give this richness and depth to the world of the books. The romance between Caspian and Ardy doesn't happen in isolation, like real people they are busy doing other things while falling in love.

One of the most loving episodes in the series for me involves Ardy taking care of Bellerose. It encapsulates everything good in this world (together with so much of the bad in it). It's about love and care in its purest form.

The trilogy ends with the sweetest epilogue, full of tenderness and promise. It's the beginning of a long process for Ardy and Caspian of learning how to be together and be happy. And it's why I read romance, for this ultimate moment of hope - love is possible, happiness is possible, the darkness can be defeated.

CW: Assault, sexual abuse (in the past). attempted rape, death of a parent (in the past), stalking and manipulation, drug use, car accident (secondary character), cheating, panic attacks, unprocessed trauma 

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Alix E. Harrow

First Paragraph Monday

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This is not a regular feature but I just started a book with an awesome first paragraph that I just need to share. Here is the start of Ten Thousand Doors of January, debut fantasy with a dash of romance from what I hear, by Alix E. Harrow. And that cover, it's stunning, isn't it? 

When I was seven, I fond a door. I suspect I should capitalize that word, so you understand I'm not talking about garden-or common-variety door that leads reliably to a white-tiles kitchen or a bedroom closet. 



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