F/F romance

Review: The Oleander Sword by Tasha Suri

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Title: The Oleander Sword (Burning Kingdoms #2)
Author: Tasha Suri
Genre/Themes: Fantasy, f/f romance, Indian setting and MCs
Release Date: 16 Aug 2022

Author's links: Website Twitter Goodreads Instagram

My rating: 5 Stars



Blurb 

The prophecy of the nameless god—the words that declared Malini the rightful empress of Parijatdvipa—has proven a blessing and curse. She is determined to claim the throne that fate offered her. But even with the strength of the rage in her heart and the army of loyal men by her side, deposing her brother is going to be a brutal and bloody fight.

The power of the deathless waters flows through Priya’s blood. Thrice born priestess, Elder of Ahiranya, Priya’s dream is to see her country rid of the rot that plagues it: both Parijatdvipa's poisonous rule, and the blooming sickness that is slowly spreading through all living things. But she doesn’t yet understand the truth of the magic she carries.

Their chosen paths once pulled them apart. But Malini and Priya's souls remain as entwined as their destinies. And they soon realize that coming together is the only way to save their kingdom from those who would rather see it burn—even if it will cost them.

Review 

Gorgeous, moving, full of magic and suspense!

Often the second books in series loose the momentum of the first one. This was very much not the case here. It very much upped the stakes on the romance, the magic, the suspense.

The story continues where it left off at the end of book 1 with Malini on her way to the throne and Priya trying to rebuild Ahirniya. We meet a bunch of new characters, often seeing things from their POV. It’s never confusing or too much, rather it creates a very vivid world. It is amazing to me how distinctive and well developed even the minor characters in this series are.

As the story unfolds we see court intrigue and priestly manipulation abound. All the while Malini and Priya and Bumikha and Rao and Aditya try to follow their destiny without losing themselves completely. The author consistently gives us outstanding female characters, they all have different strength and lead a fight to live their lives on their own terms. We see women leading armies and fighting, providing spiritual guidance and wielding magical powers, giving political advise. It is a powerful you-have-a-choice-and-can-be-anything-you-want-to-be message for me and I found it really uplifting.

I loved the writing, loved the magic with all its darkness and demand for sacrifice and how the women try to carve a place for themselves in a world that’s essentially hostile towards them.

While I fully empathise with Malini and Priya and Bumikha and Rao and Aditya, I really found Chandra’s chapters fascinating as well. A villain through and through but with layers, with motivation – a living breathing human being. He is petty and vindictive, with delusions of grandeur but also there are moments where we see him lost and vulnerable and scared while still being very much the bad guy.

The romance between Malini and Priya is intense, facing one too many obstacles, embroiled in power struggles and magic that is too powerful, too demanding, too consuming. I can’t wait to see how things between develop in the next book because they don’t look very hopeful right now.

I am not ready to talk about Bumikha and all that happens with Ahiranya. Avoiding spoilers, I can only say it offers a fascinating take on what gods and monsters are and the choice we make to follow one or the other.

There is no cliffhanger, some plotlines are completed, though the major resolution is forthcoming in the next book. And it promises to be an epic struggle to make things right for everyone.

This is shaping to be an awesome series, one of the best fantasies I have read and I highly recommend it.

CW: violence, dark magic, sacrifice, burning alive, torture

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Angst

Review: Bend Towards the Sun by Jen Devon

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Title: Bend Towards the Sun
Author: Jen Devon
Date of publication: 9 Aug 2022
Genre: Contemporary romance 

Author's links:

Rating: 4 Stars



Blurb 

Two imperfect people. One year under the sun. A love story you won't ever forget.

Rowan McKinnon doesn’t believe in love. With a botany PhD, two best friends who embrace her social quirkiness, and some occasional no-strings sex, she has everything she needs. But she hides deep wounds from the past—from a negligent mother, and a fiancé who treated her like a pawn in a game. When an academic setback leads Rowan to take on the restoration of an abandoned vineyard, she relishes the opportunity to restore the grapes to their former glory.

She does not expect to meet a man like Harrison Brady.

An obstetrician profoundly struggling after losing a patient, Harry no longer believes he is capable of keeping people safe. Reeling, Harry leaves Los Angeles to emotionally recover at his parents’ new vineyard in Pennsylvania.

He does not expect to meet a woman like Rowan McKinnon.

As their combative banter gives way to a simmering tension, sunlight begins to crack through the darkness smothering Harry’s soul. He’s compelled to explore the undeniable pull between them. And after a lifetime of protecting herself from feeling anything, for anyone, Rowan tries to keep things casual.

But even she can’t ignore their explosive connection.

Review 

This is such a wonderful, somewhat old-school romance but with less misogyny and sexual harassment mistaken for lust. It offers top-level angst, great character development which I greatly enjoyed.  

I absolutely loved the coziness and comfort of the a tight-knit family that have each others back that is at the centre of this story. Rowan is basically an orphan heroine who gets adopted in the hero's family without even realizing it. 

This is exactly the kind of contemporary romance I love - strong internal conflict, no artificial drama, great character development. We really see the MCs on a journey towards each other. 

At the start of the book both Rowan and Harrison are at a rough spot, each of them dealing with their own trauma and hurt. While I liked both of them, I have to say we get slightly more insight into her background and why she is acts the way she does now and this made feel closer to her than to him. With him, it's different - there is a major traumatic event that happened recently and he is recovering from it but we do not get much about his childhood/other events besides that single one. It's only toward the very end that me get more insight into him and why his relations with the rest of the family are the way they are now.

The angst is exquisite and I loved every minute of it. A major plus for me in this romance is the fact that things happened slowly, over the course of a full year. Yes, the attraction between Rowan and Harrison is almost instant from the moment they meet and they do get together well before the year is through but their relationship grew over time. And they both needed that time together and away from each other. Harrison is at a really bad place both physically and emotionally when he met the heroine and we see him gradually heal, we see him getting control over of his depression and panic attacks. It's slow and painful but he get unreserved love and support from his family (and Rowan). 

Rowan melted my heart and I wanted to give her the squishiest hug, Her sense of loneliness and being on her own is so acute, it jumped from the pages straight to my heart. Her fear of making a potentially wrong decision with no safety net to back upon was almost palpable to me. And it really stood out in comparison with the care and support Harrison got from his family and he mostly took for granted. 

There is a third-act break up but it very much made sense in the overall plot. Rowan had to do the biggest grovel to win Harrison back and his family was right there for her and I loved that. 

Now, after all that praise, I admit there were some plot twists towards the end that didn't work for me and I felt they were unnecessary and over-the-top. The emotional intensity and conflict between the MCs were strong enough without these added complications. 

Still, the story is highly readable, flowing easily, great setting (a big close-knit family trying to revive a neglected vineyard they bought), awesome family and close friendships, love expressed with small gestures. 

I'm very much looking forward to more books in the series. I am excited to see a bunch of secondary characters get their HEAs 

CW: grief, parent neglect, ex-partner emotional abuse, loss of a patient, anxiety attacks (graphic, on page), depression

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Nalini Singh

Review: Storm Echo by Nalini Singh

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Title: Silver Silence (Psy-Changeling Trinity #6)
Author: Nalini Singh
Date of publication: 26 July 2022
Genre: Paranormal romance, shifters

Author's links:

Rating: 4 Stars



Blurb 

Silence has fallen. The Psy are free to feel emotion. Free to love. But Silence was never a prison for Ivan Mercant. The biggest threat to his future lies dormant in his brain—a psychic monster that wants only to feed. And now, the brutal leash he’s kept on that monster is slipping. He prepared for this day, for the end of Ivan Mercant . . . but that was before he met Lei.
As primal as she is human, this wild changeling brings color into his life, laughter to his soul. Then the dream shatters in a rain of blood, in silent bodies in the snow. Lei is gone. Vanished without a trace . . . until he meets strangely familiar eyes across a busy San Francisco street.

Soleil Bijoux Garcia is a healer who has lost everything. She exists in a world of desolate aloneness . . . till the day she finds herself face-to-face with a lethal stranger. The animal who is her other half knows this man, but her memories are tattered fragments. Sorrow and a need for vengeance are all that drive her. Her mission? To kill the alpha of the DarkRiver leopard pack.

But fate has other plans. Soon, a deadly soldier who believes himself a monster and a broken healer might be all that stand between life and death for the entire Psy race. . .

Review 



This is another great installment in a favourite series. Psys getting together with changelings are my favourite couples, so much passion and restraint, funny first-time moments, pure joy to read.

Every new book in the series is like a homecoming - a familiar world with a complex overarching suspense plot. And every time Nalini Singh manages to surprise me, to make the romance feel fresh and new.

We get a bit of amnesia plot and while I am not a fan of it in general, I didn't mind it here. The twist was that because the mating has already taken place (unawares for both of them, mind you), the animal side of Lei remembered Ivan.

The suspense/mystery plot gets more and more complicated but we see a possibility for solution here which I liked and felt was the right place and time for it.

Like most stories in the series at this stage we get to catch up on a number of familiar characters. Many of the cats make an appearance - Lucas, Nate, Tamsyn and they are as good as ever.

I loved how to story offered the possibility for family, future, something Ivan had given up on.

Most often the Psy have no experience with feelings and intimacy but as highly logical beings they do proper research of the matter. There is even a guidebook circulated among friends that someone made in the previous books iirc. Ivan, though, didn't research sex/intimate relationships because he didn't think it will ever happen to him. When it came to physical intimacy, he let Lei lead him. His complete trust in her was a thing of beauty for me.

A central element in Ivan's story was drug abuse (not him directly) and its consequences. I found the descriptions to be really detailed and very jarring at times. Seeing it from a child's POV made it extra hard to read. The whole series does not shy away from darkness - abuse, both physical and mental is a common theme for many of the books. Still, the drug use here hit me extra hard and I wanted to mention it explicitly.

In the end we got the HEA for our couple, the overarching suspense plot moved a few steps towards resolution and we got a whole new possible plotline opened. That is all to say that I very much enjoyed this book and I am looking forward to the next in the series.

I find it difficult to list CWs for this series but what stood out for me in the book is: drug abuse, parent neglect, loss, car accident (in the past), attempted murder with grave injuries, psychic violence

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Jessie Mihalik

Review: Eclipse the Moon by Jessie Mihalik

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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 façade, 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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