Cathy Yardley

Review: Love, Comment, Subscribe by Cathy Yardley

02:30

Title: Love, Comment, Subscribe 
(Ponto Beach Reunion #1)
Author: Cathy Yardley
Genre: Contemporary romance, Youtubers 
Release date: 01 Oct 2021

Author Links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Instagram



Blurb 

Back in high school, Lily Wang wanted to be popular, but she considered herself lucky to be part of a tight group of oddballs and honors students called the Nerd Herd. Now, at twenty-eight, she feels like she’s finally on the cusp of succeeding as a beauty influencer—if she can hit five million subscribers, brands will take notice and she could get her own makeup line.

Fellow Nerd Herd alum Tobin Bui has had a lot of success as a YouTube gamer. But the road to online stardom has been rocky. First, he disappointed his parents by dropping out of college, and now, after years of pranks, skits, and playthroughs, he’s struggling to come up with new content to satisfy his ever-growing fan base. His agents say he needs cross-audience appeal, a new twist.

When Nerd Herd frenemy Lily approaches Tobin about teaming up to do a video to bolster her brand and reinvigorate his, he agrees. But when their first collab video goes viral, their relationship heats up too. With the whole internet watching, will these two former misfits finally realize they’re perfect together?


Review 

This is a super fun, enjoyable read. The story flows easily and while it is a bit stereotypical at times, overall this is a cute, feel good romance.

I liked the set up - high school friends/enemies meet 10 years after graduation when their agents suggest they do a collaboration for their youtube channels. I don't really follow any youtubers and I found the behind-the-scenes very interesting.

I liked both Lily and Tobin and I found I could relate to their struggles regardless how different they were. They were opposites in many ways but had more similarities than appeared on the surface. I really liked how they brought the best in each other.

For a light-hearted romance this story had unexpected depths - undiagnosed ADHD and how it affects every aspect of one's life, family expectations and pressure, demands on content creators to produce new, imaginative, fun/clever content all the time. As a long-time blogger I felt some of their struggles very close to me. It's just a hobby for me, they make their living via Youtube but the pressure they were under felt very real to me.

I liked their diverse group of friends (enemies), both MCs are half-Asian and there are a bunch of queer characters as well. It read very natural too me, nothing felt force or out of place.

The greatest strength of the story for me was the idea of finding a balance in your life and making a relationship work despite the odds. Both Lily and Tobin need to put in the work to overcome their personal issues. Being together was no miracle cure though it did put things in perspective for both of them.

I admit to liking him a tiny bit more than her, she came off more closed off. His whole storyline was richer, more developed than hers imo. I appreciate the way his creative block was presented and his struggles to admit it and finally deal with it. He prioritized his mental health over work/fame/success and that is a such a powerful message to me.

my only complaint is that the ending was too neat, all issues were resolved in more or less fairytale manner. There are also some stereotypical representations in the story that could have been avoided. Still, overall I enjoyed this book a lot and can highly recommend it.

CW: undiagnosed ADHD, burnout

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BDSM

Review: Seducing the Sorcerer by Lee Welch

02:30

Title: Seducing the Sorcerer
Author: Lee Welch
Genre / Themes: Fantasy romance / m/m romance 

Release date: 23 Sept 2021

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Facebook

My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb

Homeless and jobless, Fenn Todd has nearly run out of hope. All he has left is his longing for horses and the strength of his own two hands. But when he’s cheated into accepting a very ugly sackcloth horse, he’s catapulted into a world of magic, politics and desire.

Fenn’s invited to stay at the black tower, home of the most terrifying man in the realm: Morgrim, the court sorcerer. Morgrim has a reputation as a scheming villain, but he seems surprisingly charming—and sexy—and Fenn falls hard for him.

However, nothing is as it seems and everyone at the tower is lying about something. Beset by evil hexes, violent political intrigue and a horse that eats eiderdowns, Fenn must make the hardest choices of his life.

Can a plain man like Fenn ever find true love with a scheming sorcerer?


Review

This is a new-to-me author and I am happy a took a chance on her. This book turned out to be exactly what I needed at the moment - fantasy romance with older MCs, very real despite the magic.

I liked the fantasy setting and found it to be engaging without being too complicated or overwhelming which is sometimes the case for me in fantasy/paranormal romances.

The story is told from Fenn's POV and I loved his voice. A common man in his early forties, he has been trough some hard times, he is a bit rough around the edges but he is not jaded or cynical. There is inherent kindness and empathy in him that loved. His passion for horses is a thing of beauty, it's contagious and reminded me how great it can feel to be this passionate about something, the utter joy it can bring. I also appreciate how ordinary Fenn was, he was no soldier/courtier or hero, he just loved Morgrim and wanted him to be safe and well.

I was fully sold on the romance, despite not liking Morgrim, the sorcerer, nearly as much as Fenn. I could see how he was all lonely and vulnerable behind the mask of the great court sorcerer, but somehow he read/sounded more juvenile than a man in his 40s. I might be harsh in my judgement but him keeping all these secrets all the time, playing his political games with Fenn even after they got together, didn't help his case.

The romance itself was lovely - light BDSM elements and role play coupled with deep feels and explicit consent was a winning combination. What was an interesting twist in the romantic relationship was the potential for their magic to influence their feelings for one another. It added further tension to the romance which kept recurring in different forms till the end. Sometimes it worked better for me, other times it felt forced and out of place. Overall, I quite enjoyed their romantic journey

A fairytale ending that fitted the fairytale vibe of the whole book - love conquers all, the good guys won and the bad guys got what they deserved.

This has been a great escapist fun - a bit magical, a bit real - very charming and a pleasure to read.

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China

Review: She Who Became the Sun

02:30

Title: She Who Became the Sun 
(The Radiant Emperor #1)
Author: Shelley Parker-Chan
Genre / Themes: Historical fantasy / China / Gender  

Release date: 20 July 2021

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Instagram 

My rating: 3 Stars

Blurb 

“I refuse to be nothing…”

In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.

When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother's identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.

After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother's abandoned greatness.

Review 



It's difficult for me to review this book. It's one of my most anticipated fantasy releases of 2021 because of the hype and the interesting premise. In the end I didn't work so well for me, I loved some things about it but also others bothered me. It's a moving story, unforgettable and thought provoking, days after finishing it, I am still thinking about it and processing it.

I would describe this book as historical fantasy with a lot of emphasis on battles and military tactics. The fantasy element is barely there in the first half and though it gains more attention in the second half, it still felt weak and underdeveloped to me.

On the plus side, I was intrigued by the leading characters of Zhu and Ouyang. Their parallel stories worked great to highlight their similarities and differences. One the strongest elements of the story is the exploration of gender identity and stereotypes and perception by society. I liked how the issues of appearance, perception were treated with care and understanding. It was process for Zhu - discovering who she is and accepting her fate/body/desire. For Ouyang, who is her opposite in a way, but also similar - his hatred of himself, the way other have made him be - it was there from the start and didn't really change but I felt it made sense.

I liked Zhu initially. Seeing her grow into herself, her determination, will to live and tenacity was something I admired. Towards the end though, I felt her desire for greatness became all-consuming, selfish. The whole idea of achieving greatness at any cost didn't sit well with me at all. It made her harder, cynical, unsympathetic in my eyes and could no longer root for her.

Another aspect of my disappointment with her is the way she treated Ma. She claimed she needed Ma's ability to care for others, her empathy and open-heartness, to balance Zhu's more cynical nature. At the same time Zhu never did listened to Ma, never took her advice and despite loving her she kept hurting her.

The overall progression of the plot and the manner of story-telling fell off to me. The pacing was even with long stretches of nothing important happening and then sudden burst of actions (often military action or other kind of violence). There are multiple POVs which on theory would make the story richer, but they made it messy instead. They were not as well developed as Zhu or Ouyang POVs and I was often wanted to skip them to return to Zhu or Ouyang.

There is probably a lot more to be said about this book - Ouyang and Essen relationship was fascinating and tragic; Lord Wang was an interesting character and wanted to see more of him; there is a child murder (off page) that still can't over; the power (and lack of) of women was also central in the story.

Overall, this a dark historical fantasy with lots of violence and flawed characters. It was intriguing but ultimately not a hit for me.

CW: Author's note on Goodreads + violence, graphic sex

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Baking

Review of Battle Royal by Lucy Parker

02:30

Title: Battle Royal (Palace Insiders #1)
Author: Lucy Parker
Genre / Themes: Contemporary romance / reality TV / Baking* Enemies-to-lovers 

Release date: 17 Aug 2021

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads

My rating: 4 Stars




Blurb

Ready…

Four years ago, Sylvie Fairchild charmed the world as a contestant on the hit baking show, Operation Cake. Her ingenious, colorful creations captivated viewers and intrigued all but one of the judges, Dominic De Vere, the hottest pastry chef in London. When her glittery unicorn cake went spectacularly sideways, Dominic was quick to vote her off the show. Since then, Sylvie has managed to use her fame to help fulfill her dream of opening a bakery, Sugar Fair. The toast of Instagram, Sugar Fair has captured the attention of the Operation Cake producers…and a princess.

Set…

Dominic is His Majesty the King’s favorite baker, the go-to for sweet-toothed A-List celebrities, and a veritable British institution. He’s brilliant, talented, hard-working. And an icy, starchy grouch. Learning that the irksome Sylvie will be joining him on the Operation Cake judging panel is enough to make the famously dour baker even more grim. Her fantastical baking is only slightly more troublesome than the fact that he can’t stop thinking about her pink-streaked hair and irrepressible dimple.

Match…

When Dominic and Sylvie learn they will be fighting for the once in a lifetime opportunity to bake a cake for the upcoming wedding of Princess Rose, the flour begins to fly as they’re both determined to come out on top.

The bride adores Sylvie’s quirky style. The palace wants Dominic’s classic perfection.

In this royal battle, can there be room for two?

Review

I have read all of Lucy Parker's previous books and they have all worked brilliantly for me. This one was no different. Grumpy - sunshine is favourite trope of mine in romance, adding bakers and reality TV shows and it's almost too good to be true.

I went in expecting light-hearted and fun romance, with lots of rival bakers shenanigans. This was not the case, but it was still amazing.

This was a touching, slow burn romance with two MCs who are opposites on the surface but deep down both are fiercely loyal to the people they love, both have suffered serious trauma in their past which they have taken a different approach to dealing with. He is distant, straight-lacd, keeping his emotions in check, following the rules and avoiding making human connections. She is the opposite - flamboyant, rule breaker, wearing her heart on her sleeve. In fact they both crave a deep connection, but are scared to give in to their feelings.

This story is not s romcom despite cover suggesting otherwise. Grief and loss and neglect take up a central place in it. It's heaertbreaking, very vivid and moving. The focus for me on how people who have been hurt in the past learn and dare to let people in again. There is a lot of happening here, both involving the MCs and the secondary characters. It's overwhelming at times but still the romance, the journey of the MCs towards each other shines through for me.

I felt the presentation of the hero's struggle with touch and spontaneity was well done, it felt real and relatable. The consent was brilliant, and just with respect to sex, but to touch in general. The romance was dreamy with great sexual tension. I loved how they worked as a couple, there was a strong sense of partnership despite the professional competition. I loved how their rivalry progressed with no dirty tricks and backstabbing between them.

There is plenty of dirty tricks on the reality show the MCs judge though. It showed the backstage rather than the glamour and success of reality TV cooking shows. It came close to Masterchef than GBBO in my opinion but it was still entertaining to see.

I am still not a fan of romances based of real life royal families. There were made up elements that made it feel distant though I still prefer

Don't like real royals, fake titles are used but still it was too close to reality.

Overall, this is an engaging romance, with some fun elements but mostly dealing with serious/heavy topics. I had some issues here and there but in end I really enjoyed it and can't wait for the next book in the series already.

CW: grief, parental neglect, loss of a parent/guardian, stabbing attack, stalking


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Adriana Anders

Review: Uncharted by Adriana Anders

02:30

Title: Uncharted
Author: Adriana Anders
Date of publication: 24 Aug 2021
Genre: Romantic suspense, Alaska

Author's links:

My rating: 2.5 Stars


Blurb 

Hotshot pilot Leo Eddowes is afraid of nothing and no one. So when she's asked to evacuate a man from the wilds of Alaska, she doesn't hesitate. But with enemies in close pursuit and the weather turning sour, what should have been a simple mission quickly shifts to disaster.

And there's only one way out.

When Elias Thorne disappeared, he was America's most wanted. Now he's spent more than a decade in one of the most remote places on earth, guarding a dangerous secret. Leo's arrival, quickly followed by a team of expert hunters, leaves him no choice but to join forces with her—and run. Neither is prepared for their reluctant partnership to flare into something as wild and untamed as the frozen world around them...but as desperately cold days melt into scorchingly hot nights, Leo and Elias must learn to dig deep, trust in each other, and forge a bond as strong as the forces of nature.

Stranded together in a frozen wilderness,
There's nowhere left to run...


Review

I was bitterly disappointed with this book after absolutely loving the previous in the series. I did read Whiteout last January before the pandemic started and the deadly virus plot of the series definitely didn't affect me the way it did now, now it hit too close to home for me to enjoy the story and the romance.

It was not pleasant but I could have ignored it if the rest worked better for me. I can suspend belief regarding many things in romantic suspense but this book things too far and it felt ridiculous instead of engaging.

The heroine was sick (flu-type thing) throughout the book, on top of being injured and freezing to death for the most of it. It was stressful to read and honestly, felt superfluous, the tension was there even without it. The heroine is Black and she is an ex-military pilot but none of that is presented in much detail. From my position of an outsider, a Southeastern European white woman I expected it to be more central.

There is no romance to speak of in the first 40/50%. There was. no real character development either, just two people trying to survive in the Alaska wilderness while hunted by the bad guys.

I did like the final quarter of the book most of all - the romance was finally happening though I was not too fond of possessive, fated mates aspect in contemporaries, I can see it working here with all the adrenaline and emotions running high because of the extreme situations the MCs are in. At the same the whole danger/survival aspect was too much, we get reminded of her sickness and his injuries every couple of pages and it became boring at some point.

I liked the hero and appreciated the way he cared for the heroine. His backstory and current situation made sense though I was surprised by his abrupt change from a loner to someone who can't imagine life without the heroine. It all felt over the top to me.

There is a side plotline with Amka and the other people in town which didn't add anything to the story for me, I just found distracting.

I am intrigued by one of the villains who is morally grey but I am not sure that even his story will tempt me to continue with the series.

CW: an MC with flu-like symptoms, life-threatening injuries, violence, blood, dog in danger (survives)

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