A. J. Demas

Review: Strong Wine by A. J. Demas

02:30

Title: Strong Wine (Sword Dance #3)
Author: A. J. Demas
Date of publication: 14 Oct 2021
Genre: Alt-history, queer romance, cozy mystery

Author's links:

My rating: 3 stars


Blurb 

Retired soldier Damiskos and his lover Varazda have been living together in Boukos for a month, and their future is beginning to look bright. Then Damiskos receives a letter summoning him home to Pheme—where his parents are deeply in debt, his brother is being hunted by loan sharks, and an unwanted arranged marriage looms.

And that’s before Damiskos is charged with murder.

Fortunately, he’s not alone. Old friends are back in Pheme. And Varazda—eunuch, sword-dancer, and spy—has solved mysteries before. But saving his lover from execution and from marriage will take time, and with only days until Dami’s trial, time is running out.

Strong Wine is the third book in the Sword Dance trilogy, the conclusion of Dami and Varazda’s story from Sword Dance and Saffron Alley. This time with fake fortunetellers, real courtroom drama, and … fertilizer?



Review

This is the final book in m/non-binary alt history romance series that I have greatly enjoyed. Over the books I have come to care greatly for the MCs and their loved ones and I was happy to see them happy and settled long term in the end of this book.

This story gives us a great ending to the series, though it read more like cozy mystery than proper romance to me. I felt the focus was mostly on investigation and courtroom drama with complicated family relations thrown in and the romantic relationship between Damiskos and Varazda took a back seat. This not a complaint by any means, just not what I expected initially but I adjusted quickly as I read on.

I would have liked more development of the intimacy and long term commitment and trust between the MCs. I truly believe that they are perfect for each other and wanted to see more of it on page.

That said, I did like seeing their fiends and foes getting what they deserve. I like the rich world and complex characters the author has created. It was all very engaging for me.

There is a focus on secondary f/f queer relationship and I loved seeing it. We also see a neuro-divergent secondary characters, I believe, the first one the series. I liked the representation but I am no expert so I would advise checking own-voices reviews for a better assessment.

The ending was perfect, the magical fairytale both MCs wanted with their found family.

This has been mostly a cozy, heart-warming queer romance sprinkled with some crime/murder investigation though nothing too explicit.

Add to Goodreads / Buy Amazon

Contemporary Romance

Review: And They Lived Happily Ever After by Therese Beharrie

02:30

Title: And They Lived Happily Ever After
Author: Therese Beharrie
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance, Magic
Release Date: 30 Nov 2021

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

My rating: 3 Stars


Blurb 

One unexpected kiss . . .
Successful romance author Gaia Anders has a secret: anything she dreams at night is magically written into her bestselling novels. After a lonely childhood in foster care, her dream life is the only one she trusts. Gaia’s waking life just can’t compare—until she gets caught in one utterly surprising, crazy-passionate, real-life kiss . . .

One near-perfect guy . . .
Workaholic businessman Jacob Scott has had a crush on his brother’s best friend, Gaia, since forever—but he never expected to literally share her dreams. Living out their magical nighttime fantasies is explosive, but it’s their waking desire turning his single-minded ways upside down. It’s making him want a future he didn’t think was possible . . .

One dream that could come true . . .
But Gaia has secrets from her past she won't reveal. And Jacob's attempts to keep the peace in his own fractured family puts him up against her deepest fears. Soon, they’re facing hard truths about who they are and what they’re running from. And the only way to break this curse is realizing true love's real-life power . .

Review

This is a paranormal contemporary romance and that's a thing I didn't expect going in and sadly, did not work that well for me.

I loved the story as a contemporary romance - a writer heroine is a difficult past and undiagnosed and untreated anxiety, a kind and caring hero who is her best friend's brother. He has his hands full with keeping the family business going and his family together and no intention or time for falling in love. They seem like an unlikely couple of the surface over the story we see how they actually make a perfect fit. There is a lot of internal conflict to their relationship which is my catnip in romance and I enjoyed reading about it. 

At the same time the story has a strong paranormal element that didn't work for me at all. Gaia has magical dreams related to her writing which I admit I didn't fully understand  how they worked. And thny because of her romantic connection she has with Jacob, he gets to share and participate in her dreams. It was all very weird for me and felt it didn't add anything to the story for me, only made me confused and annoyed. I think this would have been a great contemporary romance with out the paranormal aspect. I definitely would have enjoyed it more. 

I really liked how Gaia's anxiety, mental health struggles were presented, we get to follow her on her journey of realising she has issues, through defining them and seek the proper way to deal with them. At the same time Jacob's support and care for her was phenomenal while coming face to face with  some hard truths about his own life. It was the happiness they felt when they were together that helped them realise how unhappy and unfulfilled they have been up to that point and it acted a catalyst for them to be more daring and to reach out for the things they wanted.

Some plot points seemed too much and overall they served just as a distraction from the main story. I was not happy with the resolution of her magic in the end. There is also a spoiler for the next book right on the final pages and it left me baffled and once again asking my self "Why, Why go there at all?"

The writing is great, as I have come to expect from Therese Beharrie, the sense of place is tangible (Cape Town), the slow burn romance and the complex family relations round it are awesome. I would have absolutely loved it if it wasn't for the magic bits, as it is it I have mixed feelings about it and would only recommend with the caveats mentioned in my review. 

CW: undiagnosed anxiety, panic attacks, mental health issues, death of parents (in the past), foster care and adoption (in the past)

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon

Contemporary Romance

Review: All the Feels by Olivia Dade

01:47

Title: All the Feels (Spoiler Alert #2)
Author: Olivia Dade
Genre / Themes: Contemporary romance, Hollywood actors
Release date: 26 Oct 2021
Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads

My rating: 3 Stars


Blurb 

Following Spoiler Alert, Olivia Dade returns with another utterly charming romantic comedy about a devil-may-care actor—who actually cares more than anyone knows—and the no-nonsense woman hired to keep him in line.

Alexander Woodroe has it all. Charm. Sex appeal. Wealth. Fame. A starring role as Cupid on TV’s biggest show, God of the Gates. But the showrunners have wrecked his character, he’s dogged by old demons, and his post-show future remains uncertain. When all that reckless emotion explodes into a bar fight, the tabloids and public agree: his star is falling.

Enter Lauren Clegg, the former ER therapist hired to keep him in line. Compared to her previous work, watching over handsome but impulsive Alex shouldn’t be especially difficult. But the more time they spend together, the harder it gets to keep her professional remove and her heart intact, especially when she discovers the reasons behind his recklessness…not to mention his Cupid fanfiction habit.

When another scandal lands Alex in major hot water and costs Lauren her job, she’ll have to choose between protecting him and offering him what he really wants—her. But he’s determined to keep his improbably short, impossibly stubborn, and extremely endearing minder in his life any way he can. And on a road trip up the California coast together, he intends to show her exactly what a falling star will do to catch the woman he loves: anything at all.

Review

I have complicated feelings about this book. I generally like Olivia Dade's writing and sense of humour that comes through in her books. I haven't read the first in this series and went in not knowing anything about the characters.

I have to admit the first half was rather difficult for me, I was close to giving up in the middle but then the story turned around and I really enjoyed the second half.

I was not sold on either of the MCs initially though Alex was the real thorn in my side. I could see how he was under immense pressure, how his ADHD really complicated things for him, how sarcasm was his modus operandi, yet none of this could excuse the way he treated Lauren initially. He was rude and dismissive, consistently presented both her physical appearance and character in negative terms.

She was closed off, distanced from everything and everyone, completely burnt out because of her previous job. She came off as bland and boring but it made sense to me and his attitude to her felt even worse considering how caring and good-natured he was in fact. 

Once their relationship turned into romance things changed completely for me. It was tender, sensual, fun. We see them both dealing with their baggage, giving on the feeling of guilt they carry over things from their, reaching with both hands for the love they finally feel worthy of. 

Yes, there is a third-act break up and dark moment that was very dark but they got through it (with some outside help, I loved seeing the support systems they had and trust). I loved how they finally got to be completely honest with each other and opened themselves to possible rejection in order to find a way to make things between them work in the long term.

On the negative side, on top of my issues with the MCs in the first half, there are also a couple of thier little things here and there that annoyed me. There is a fanfiction element which I, someone who is not very knowledgeable of fandom/fanficiton, found weird and in my opinion was not necessary and didn't add much to the story. I found the stalking incidents to be cliched and trite, only serving to show Alex was a good person which was not necessary at all, we have already seen this on numerous occasions. They revealed a violent, incontrollable aspect of his temper which I considered worrisome. I wish there had been more focus on him getting help for these issues, rather than him becoming calmer and more stable thanks to his relationship with Lauren. 

Overall, I didn't like the first part but I am glad that persevered and finished the book. It made me angry and happy and it made me think over different issues it explores and I am grateful for this. 

CW: hero with ADHD, fatphobia, insults on physical appearance, unsupportive families, domestic violence (side character, in the past), actor stalking


Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon






Ballet

Review: The Brightest Star in Paris by Diana Biller

06:22

Title: The Brightest Star in Paris 
Author: Diana Biller
Genre: Historical romance, Paris, Ballet
Release date: 12 Oct 2021

Author Links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads



Blurb

Amelie St. James, prima ballerina of the Paris Opera Ballet and the people's saint, has spent seven years pretending. In the devastating aftermath of the Siege of Paris, she made a decision to protect her sister: she became the bland, sweet, pious “St. Amie” the ballet needed to restore its scandalous reputation. But when her first love reappears, and the ghosts of her past come back to haunt her, all her hard-fought safety is threatened.

Dr. Benedict Moore has never forgotten the girl who helped him embrace life again after he almost lost his. Now, he's back in Paris after twelve years for a conference. His goals are to recruit promising new scientists, and, maybe, to see Amelie again. When he discovers she's in trouble, he's desperate to help her—after all, he owes her.

When she finally agrees to let him help, they disguise their time together with a fake courtship. But reigniting old feelings is dangerous, especially when their lives are an ocean apart. Will they be able to make it out with their hearts intact?

Review

Wow, I loved this romance so, so much. I was late reading Diana Biller's debut historical romance, The Widow of Rose House, and I thoroughly enjoyed. I was so excited for the next book in the series and was not disappointed. It it unlike anything I have ever read or expected it to be and it's stunning.

This is a historical romance set in 1870/80s Paris, a time period and place that are noш a very common romance setting and one that I am not very familiar with. The historical details were strongly present in this book, creating an engaging background without taking the focus away from the main story/romance.

It's very much a grief book, the war trauma, the survival trauma, the loss are palpable on every page. It made tough reading at times but it was mostly balanced out by the geeky, fun Moore family and the intense romance.

I loved the heroine, she is amazing. I want to cuddle her and shake her and take care of her and let her figure out her dreams and follow them. This is what the hero tried to do throughout the book though naturally he messed up a time or two. And she is not perfect either. She has her own demons to fight. And I liked how they both felt, two messed up people dealing with life in the best way they could.

I appreciate the glimpse we get of the ballet world of the time behind the fame and glamour. It's beautiful and terrifying, we see supportive and caring fans but also predatory men who abuse the vulnerability of young girls and a world that enables them to do it.

And on top of this realism, we get ghosts. The heroine is haunted not by one but by three of them. I often struggle to reconcile the realism in a story with its paranormal elements but I had no issues with it here. Somehow the ghosts' presence made sense to me, I felt that they fit into the story seamlessly.

There are flashbacks that also worked naturally. And teenage sisters who were not annoying but brought
pure joy on page. And there was positive message re sex work that I didn't expect but that also made sense in the story for me. Put out like that it may appear there are too many things happening but in reality they were well balanced and the author managed to create a rich, life-like world where a touching romance develops.

In short, I absolutely loved that book and can't recommend it high enough!

CWs: loss, grief, war trauma, murder, abuse, slow, painful death of a loved one (in flashback), dance injuries

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon


Paranormal Romance

Review: Pretty Little Lion by Suleikha Snyder

02:30

Title: Pretty Little Lion (Third Shift #2)
Author: Suleikha Snyder
Genre /Tropes: PNR, politics, mafia
Release Date: 26 Oct 2021

Author's links:

My rating: 3 Stars


Blurb 

Never fall for your mark. It's rule no. 1 of undercover work...and the rule Third Shift co-founder Elijah Richter breaks the moment he sees Meghna Saxena-Saunders across the room at an arms dealer's VIP party.

Lion shifter and Third Shift operative Elijah Richter has an easy but vital mission: seduce arms dealer Emeric Aston's gorgeous girlfriend, use her as an entry point to the organization, and find out what the global terrorist is planning.

Unfortunately, he doesn't know that Meghna Saxena-Saunders is no ordinary celebrity influencer. She's trained as an assassin and spy, and she has her own reasons for cozying up to Aston. She immediately clocks the mysterious stranger watching her at a VIP party and the two fall into their lusty bed of lies. When their morning-after is interrupted by one of Aston's goons, both of their missions are thrown into jeopardy. Now Meghna must team with Third Shift to cover her tracks and discover the truth before it's too late.

Review 

This is the second book in a paranormal shifter romance series. The first book was just OK for me but it prepared me for the tone/style of the series. I liked this one better since I already knew the world building and I could ignore the things that annoyed me in the first book. 

The suspense is intense, and I like the MCs, we get to see more of the abilities of the supernatural beings (I still don't like the abbreviation sup used in the book). Everything was on high level here - high stakes chase, high heat and chemistry. The romance itself was great. It started with intense chemistry between two supernatural beings with unique abilities and gradually grew into honest intimacy and care for one another. 

I liked getting to know better the rest of the Third Shift crew. We get a side romance between Finn, Grace and Nate and liked seeing the complexities of that budding relationship. I wish they had gotten a book of their own though.

On the plus side, this story has a more developed paranormal aspect, dives deeper into this new dystopian world, gives us a better look into the maze of relationships in the 3S team. The juxtaposition of messed up vs loving supporting family dynamics was another in this story that I enjoyed. 

On the negative side, I have the same complaints as with the first book in the series - too many news quotes and current (US) media discord. For me this series reads more like romantic suspense/mafia romance with very in-your-face political messages rather than an escapist shifter romance. 

It is a solid action packed, high heat, diverse romance but it is not my favourite shifter romance I have read. 

Add to Goodreads / Buy on  Amazon

Flickr Images