Jessie Mihalik

Review: Polaris Rising and Aurora Blazing by Jessie Mihalik

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Title: Polaris Rising (Consortium rebellion #1)
Author: Jessie Mihalik
Publication Date: 5 Feb 2019
Genres: Sci-Fi Romance

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

My rating: 3 Stars



Blurb

A space princess on the run and a notorious outlaw soldier become unlikely allies in this imaginative, sexy space opera adventure—the first in an exciting science fiction trilogy.

In the far distant future, the universe is officially ruled by the Royal Consortium, but the High Councillors, the heads of the three High Houses, wield the true power. As the fifth of six children, Ada von Hasenberg has no authority; her only value to her High House is as a pawn in a political marriage. When her father arranges for her to wed a noble from House Rockhurst, a man she neither wants nor loves, Ada seizes control of her own destiny. The spirited princess flees before the betrothal ceremony and disappears among the stars.

Ada eluded her father’s forces for two years, but now her luck has run out. To ensure she cannot escape again, the fiery princess is thrown into a prison cell with Marcus Loch. Known as the Devil of Fornax Zero, Loch is rumored to have killed his entire chain of command during the Fornax Rebellion, and the Consortium wants his head.

When the ship returning them to Earth is attacked by a battle cruiser from rival House Rockhurst, Ada realizes that if her jilted fiancĂ© captures her, she’ll become a political prisoner and a liability to her House. Her only hope is to strike a deal with the dangerous fugitive: a fortune if he helps her escape.

But when you make a deal with an irresistibly attractive Devil, you may lose more than you bargained for . . .

Review 

I read those sci-fi romance one right after the other and decided to do a joint review.

I loved the sci-fi element, the world building was elaborate and intriguing, there was lots of court politics and drama and backstabbing. MCs had grweat chemistry and I absolutely bought their HEA but overall I felt the romance took a backseat to the suspense/adventure plot.

Loch is big silent hero, Ada is a strong independent heroine and they started as adversaries if not outright enemies but had to work together and initial lust between them gradually turned into a hard-earned trust and true intimacy. I appreciate how they were equal in many way despite how their different background and social position. They helped each other, rescued each other.

Loch had the best qualities of an alpha hero - loyal, protective but also respecting his partner and openly admiring her strength.

Ada is no damsel in distress waiting to be saved. She is very much her own saviour. Both were guarding their hearts and falling in love and opening up to each other was a pleasure to read.

This is a fun and exciting story, full of twists and turns, fast-paced, unpredictable.

There were great supporting characters, a lovely second romance plot. It provided a great set up fo rth next book.

I can recommend it to fans of sci-fi and romance readers who don't mind the love story coming second to the suspense for most of the book.

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Title: Aurora Blazing Consortium rebellion #2)
Author: Jessie Mihalik
Publication Date: 1 Oct 2019
Genres: Sci-Fi Romance

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

My rating: 3 Stars


Blurb 

Bianca von Hasenberg did her duty for High House von Hasenberg and ended up trapped in a terrible marriage. When her husband dies unexpectedly and leaves her a happy widow, she vows never to marry again. Instead, she uses her connections to save other young women. Information is power and Bianca has a network that would be the envy of the ’verse—if anyone knew about it. Bianca von Hasenberg did her duty for High House von Hasenberg and ended up trapped in a terrible marriage. When her husband dies unexpectedly and leaves her a happy widow, she vows never to marry again. Instead, she uses her connections to save other young women. Information is power and Bianca has a network that would be the envy of the ’verse—if anyone knew about it.

After an attack, Bianca’s oldest brother, the House von Hasenberg heir, disappears from Earth without a trace. Determined to find him, Bianca leaves against orders. When she refuses to return, her father sends Ian Bishop, the director of House von Hasenberg security, to haul her home like a recalcitrant child.

Bianca leads Ian on a merry chase across the universe, but when their paths finally collide, she persuades him that they would be far more successful at finding her brother if they worked together. She will do anything to save her sibling, even if it means spending time alone on a small ship with the handsome, infuriating man who once broke her heart.

As clues lead them deep into rival House Rockhurst territory, Bianca must decide if she can trust Ian with the one piece of information that could destroy her completely. . .

Review 

Book 1 made me super excited for Bianca's story and it indeed started great but just like with Ada's story, the romance plot lost track somewhere around the middle and the suspense/adventure took too much center stage for my liking. It's sort of enemies to lovers romance, again slow burn like the previous book in the series and while not as developed as I wanted it to be, I believed in the romance and their HEA.

On the good side, Bianca reminded me of Nalini Singh's psy characters but more human. My heart broke for her and the secret she had to keep from everyone and at the same time I was in absolute awe of her strength and resilience (very much like Ian when he allowed himself to admit it).

They had a complicated history between them - he rejected her once and her pride didn't let her seek his attentions again. At the same time his position as head of security for her family added further stress to their interactions. He felt responsible for keeping her safe but she hated that he saw her (only) as a damsel in distress. They bonded over their mission to save her brother and the walls they had built up around their hearts started crumbling down. I loved how their relationship showed a lot care for each other and also mutual respect for the abilities of the other person.

The suspense/adventure plot was brilliant and enjoyed it a lot. It was fast-paced, the tension was even higher than in book 1. We got deeper into the Houses politics, and I enjoyed the focus on the issues of trust - how to earn one's trust, how to keep it, a promise is a promise, a sense of duty and not letting down the people who trust and rely on you.

Sadly, I was disappointed by the ending. It felt rushed and left too many plot lines unresolved. I hope we will get our answers in the next book (about the third sister) but I still was completely satisfied with the ending here. 

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femdom

Review: The Gilded Cage by KJ Charles

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Blurb

Once upon a time a boy from a noble family fell in love with a girl from the gutter. It went as badly as you’d expect.

Seventeen years later, Susan Lazarus is a renowned detective, and Templeton Lane is a jewel thief. She’s tried to arrest him, and she’s tried to shoot him. They’ve never tried to talk.

Then Templeton is accused of a vicious double murder. Now there’s a manhunt out for him, the ports are watched, and even his best friends have turned their backs. If he can’t clear his name, he’ll hang.

There’s only one person in England who might help Templeton now...assuming she doesn’t want to kill him herself.



Review 

This is a queer m/f (heroine is bisexual) historical which is still relatively rare occurrence in romance. Unlike the first book in the series which didn't quite work for me, this one hit all my sweet spots and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a second chance romance, friends-to-enemies-to-lovers (again) with a strong mystery/suspense plot.

I loved both Susan and Templeton but she is outstanding. I liked she was unremarkable in appearanc and used that to her advantage to succeed in a male-dominated field. She was OK with her looks but to him was beautiful, perfect inside and outside. I loved how much he valued her strength and determination. 

Templeton was very much the kind of romance hero I like, he was big and strong but also aware how his size could be intimidating to women. He was a true gentle giant who wanted to do everything to please Susan and make her happy.

There is a light femdom element in their relationship, the desire to make your partner feel good, to serve, to be there for them. It started with both of them discussing and overcoming the mistakes they both made with respect to each other in the past. It was not so much about forgiveness but rather about accepting the past and moving one, appreciating the present and looking forward to a future together.

The story had a strong presence of found family (and a terrible bio one) which was glorious and supportive and everything one can wish for in a family/close circle of friends. 

The road towards HEA was not without obstacles but the ending was just perfect and felt right for both Susan (who was very anti-marriage) and for Templeton (who was pro marriage but more importantly, he was pro whatever made Susan happy). I liked that the end gave them the possibility for happiness with or without official marriage.

The book works as standalone though I would recommend reading at least An Unnatural Vice (where we meet Susan for the first time). 

CW: miscarraige (in the past), violence, murder investigation

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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