Alyssa Cole

Review: When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

02:18


Title: When No One Is Watching
Author: Alyssa Cole
Genre / Themes: Thriller, Racism, Gentrification 
Release date: 01 September 2020

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads

My rating: 2 Stars

Blurb 

Rear Window meets Get Out in this gripping thriller from a critically acclaimed and New York Times Notable author, in which the gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood takes on a sinister new meaning…

Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, FOR SALE signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo.

But Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised.

When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other—or themselves—long enough to find out before they too disappear?

Review

I have enjoyed many of Alyssa Cole's romances and was curious to try her thriller debut but unfortunately it didn't work as well for me as I had hoped for. 

In this book Alyssa Cole has focused on topical issues in the American society - gentrification (in NY specifically), racism, police violence. It's goes in some dark places, both in present times and in history, with unflinching honesty and this is the element of the story I liked the most. 

I appreciate the premise of the book but I  felt the execution was far from perfect. The first part was too slow, too descriptive - we get to meet the MCs and see the attraction between them from the start; there are separate incidents happening in their neighbourhood but they didn't create the tension I  expect from a thriller.

We get a detailed presentation of some lesser known, even completely forgotten, history of Brooklyn and I quite like it but at the same time it felt heavy handed to me, like history lesson, not a book of genre fiction. 
 
The first half read like very much like a depressing litfic about two people going through rough times. I didn't feel a connection to either of the MCs and found their romance lackluster. Their relationship did have a prominent place in the story and as a romance reader this didn't bother me, what bothered me is that I was not convinced these two are good for each other.

The thriller aspect picked up in the final 35-40%, so much so that it went into wtf territory, too much was happening, some of it pretty unbelievable. I am willing to suspend believe in most of the romantic suspense and thrillers I read, I would have done the same here. But the first part of the book felt so realistic, more facts than fiction indeed, and then the final section of the story came completely at odds with it. 

The ending was totally anticlimactic and made no sense. We also got some loose threads that remained unresolved. Overall, it was a frustrating read for me. I would not recommend it but I have also seen lots of praise for it, so it might work better for other readers.

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Jessie Mihalik

Review of Chaos Reigning by Jessie Mihalik

02:16

Title: Chaos Reigning (Consortium Rebellion #3)
Author: Jessie Mihalik
Publication Date: 19 May 2020
Genres: Sci-Fi with Romance Elements

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

My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb

Interplanetary intrigue and romance combine in this electrifying finale to the Consortium Rebellion series.

As the youngest member of her High House, Catarina von Hasenberg is used to being underestimated, but her youth and flighty, bubbly personality mask a clever mind and stubborn determination. Her enemies, blind to her true strength, do not suspect that Cat is a spy—which makes her the perfect candidate to go undercover at a rival House’s summer retreat to gather intelligence on their recent treachery.

Cat’s overprotective older sister reluctantly agrees, but on one condition: Cat cannot go alone. Alexander Sterling, a quiet, gorgeous bodyguard, will accompany her, posing as her lover. After Cat tries, and fails, to ditch Alex, she grudgingly agrees, confident in her ability to manage him. After all, she’s never found a person she can’t manipulate.

But Alex proves more difficult—and more desirable—than Cat anticipated. When she’s attacked and nearly killed, she and Alex are forced to work together to figure out how deep the treason goes. With rumors of widespread assaults on Serenity raging, communications down, and the rest of her family trapped off-planet, Catarina must persuade Alex to return to Earth to expose the truth and finish this deadly battle once and for all.

But Cat can’t explain why she’s the perfect person to infiltrate hostile territory without revealing secrets she’d rather keep buried. . . .

Review 

This is the final book in a series of SF stories. The series is billed SF romance but in my opinion all three books are rather SF with romantic elements. There is a HEA in every book but the romance comes second to the futuristic world and the suspense plot. I was unpleasantly surprised by this in the first book but I took up the next books with adjusted expectations with regard to the romance and I enjoyed them much more. 

This is the story of the youngest sibling, Cat, and it started with a rather unusual trope for SF, fake relationship and it did work well to create romantic tension, but it was over all too brief to add real depth to the romance. We moved to the the chase and fighting and travelling through space, trying to save the world and it was an amazing adventure till the very end. I loved how strong Cat was, how she masked her true self behind a bubbly socialite persona. She had to take the lead, to reveal her physical strength and sharp mind and was plagued by doubts and insecurities.

Alex was a great hero too. He loved Cat, saw through her mask and appreciated her strength, boosting her self-confidence, absolutely loving her for who she was. 

Ultimately this is an action-packed, fast moving story with many twists and turns galore. I liked the well drawn side characters and the cameo of the Cat's siblings. The world building worked well for me, there might be gaps here and there but overall I found it consistent and developed enough to make it easy and fun for me to follow the characters’ adventures. 

I would recommend the series with the caveat that it’s more of SF adventure with a bit of romance than proper SFR. 

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Historical Romance

Review: The Sugared Game by KJ Charles

07:14


Title: The Sugared Game (The Will Darling Adventures #2)
Author: KJ Charles
Genre/Themes: Historical, MM romance, Mystery
Release Date: 26 Aug 2020

Author's links: Website / Twitter / FB Group / Goodreads

My rating: 4.5 Stars
Blurb 

It's been two months since Will Darling saw Kim Secretan, and he doesn't expect to see him again. What do a rough and ready soldier-turned-bookseller and a disgraced shady aristocrat have to do with each other anyway?
But when Will encounters a face from the past in a disreputable nightclub, Kim turns up, as shifty, unreliable, and irresistible as ever. And before Will knows it, he's been dragged back into Kim's shadowy world of secrets, criminal conspiracies, and underhand dealings.

This time, though, things are underhanded even by Kim standards. This time, the danger is too close to home. And if Will and Kim can't find common ground against unseen enemies, they risk losing everything.

Review 

I liked the first book in the series just OK but thoroughly enjoyed this one. We get to see more character development here, both for Will and Kim but also for Phoebe and Maisie.

The suspense plot is engaging and kept me guessing to the very end. I had great fun following Will and Kim on their journey to figure out the mystery together. The final part of the story was action packed, very movie-like with a very high death toll (something that can be consider a staple of KJ Charles' romances :)

I admit I wasn't a big fan of Kim in the first book, rather,I didn't like the way he treated Will - the lack of trust and outright lies really bothered me. In this book I got to see more of the reasons for him acting the way he did and this helped me understand him better. 

Will was just great as a partner of Kim and as a friend to Maisie and Phoebe. His moments of doubts and sense of loneliness and unworthiness felt real and made me very emotional. 

I liked how Will and Kim acted like adults with regard to their relationship. It was not an easy thing for both of them to put into words what they felt/wanted, they made their fair share  of mistakes but they were open and willing to talk, to ear  each other out and ultimately they stood by each other when it mattered. 

The story ends with a HFN ending, a promise to try, a hope to make things work, to build something good together. There were no easy solutions, some hurts are too deep to heal overnight and this is OK. 

On a side note, the Bright Young Things are a big thing in this story and they are as insufferable as you can imagine (I fell down a rabbit hole reading about them in Wikipedia :).

In short, this was a lovely read on all levels and highly recommend it!

Note (16.09.2020) I have added a clarifying note to my review on GR under a spoiler tag and I encourage you to read it before picking this book.

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Contemporary Romance

Review: So Forward by Mina V. Esguerra

03:00

Title: So Forward (Six 32 Central Book #3)
Author: Mina V. Esguerra
Genre/Themes: Sports romance, Philippines 
Release date: 15 July 2020

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

My rating: 3,5 Stars

Blurb 

Colin Valerio has been performing practically all his life. From national team figure skating, to underwear modeling, and now posting (shirtless) selfies daily for his adoring audience. Many don’t know though that at 29, he’s quietly earning his MBA degree—that is, if he can fix his final paper. It’s got too much heart, not enough business.

National hockey team medalist, outstanding young professional, MBA prof on leave...Lexa Lorenzo is determined and driven, and did all that by age 32. She should be her family corp’s next CEO. But she’s all business, not enough heart, and her mentor/boss/aunt wants her to be more accessible, approachable, “charming.”

As luck would have it, Lexa’s alma mater calls her in to help a graduating MBA student—and it’s Colin Valerio, fellow winter sports athlete, walking/talking ball of charm. She has the sports and business background he needs. He is a natural at all the things she’s told to improve on, and may be able to teach her a thing or two. Let the lessons begin.

Review 

This is book 3 in ongoing series but works well as a standalone. It's a sports romance with both MCs retired sports players in winter sports which are not huge in the Philippines, she was hockey player, he was a figure skater. She is a business woman in a family empire. He is an Instagram celebrity, studying business in secret.

This is a low conflict, drama free romance about two young people finding their place in the world after their sports careers were over. They are different on the surface but in fact pretty similar, they are both  living sort of double life, presenting a different persona to the world while keeping their true self deeply hidden.

The romance shows them opening up to each other, sharing hopes and dreams. It was all real and relatable, the struggle to graduate and secure a job/career doing something you are passionate about,the family pressure (parental approval, sibling friendship/rivalry). There is a cosy feel of familiarity about it which I greatly enjoyed. 

I liked both MCs a lot, I bought into their romance. But, at the same time, I wanted to see more of the sports aspect,it was very in the past for both of them and it had little to no impact on their present which felt unrealistic to me. Another thing which I wish was handled differently was the defence of his thesis.The preparation for it was a major plot point but we didn't see the actual exam and it was a bit anti-climactic. Also I was looking forward to seeing her doing a figure skating dance and felt disappointed it didn't happen. 

Despite these issues it is a solid contemporary romance which I liked a lot.

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Here are my reviews and buy links for the previous books in the series:

What Kind of Day - book 1 - Review / Buy on Amazon 
Kiss and Cry - book 2 - Review / Buy on Amazon


Contemporary Romance

Review: Always Only You by Chloe Liese

14:00

Title: Always Only You (Bergman Brothers #2)
Author: Ainslie Paton
Genre: Contemporary romance, Autism, Hockey, Chronic illness, Grumpy-sunshine
Release Date: 4 Aug 2020

Author's links:

My rating: 3 Stars



Blurb 

Ren

The moment I met her, I knew Frankie Zeferino was someone worth waiting for. Deadpan delivery, secret heart of gold, and a rare one-dimpled smile that makes my knees weak, Frankie has been forbidden since the day she and I became coworkers, meaning waiting has been the name of my game—besides, hockey, that is.


I’m a player on the team, she’s on staff, and as long as we work together, dating is off-limits. But patience has always been my virtue. Frankie won’t be here forever—she’s headed for bigger, better things. I just hope that when she leaves the team and I tell her how I feel, she won’t want to leave me behind, too.


Frankie

I’ve had a problem at work since the day Ren Bergman joined the team: a six foot three hunk of happy with a sunshine smile. I’m a grumbly grump and his ridiculously good nature drives me nuts, but even I can’t entirely ignore that hot tamale of a ginger with icy eyes, the perfect playoff beard, and a body built for sin that he’s annoyingly modest about.


Before I got wise, I would have tripped over myself to get a guy like Ren, but with my diagnosis, I’ve learned what I am to most people in my life—a problem, not a person. Now, opening my heart to anyone, no matter how sweet, is the last thing I’m prepared to do.

Review 


This was my first book by Chloe Liese, the second in the series but stands well on its own, centered around a family of 7 siblings. I was drawn to its blurb because I like sports romances and I ma always on the lookout for diverse MCs in them and the cover showing us a heroine using a cane also drew me in. 

This is an ownvoices story with autistic heroine who also has a chronic illness and uses a cane who works for the social media department of a professional hockey team and the hero is a lind-hearted hockey player who is a virgin and has been in love with heroine for years She is a grump who never smiles and always wears black, he is all smiles and caring and kindness. That's pretty muchmy romance catnip - grumpy / sunshine who complement each other.

I can't comment on the autism rep but I am happy to see a romance with a heroine like Frankie. She is strong an independent, has built mechanisms that help her live on her own while doing a demanding job.

Ren is lovely, kind, and gentle, a big Shakespeare nerd, essential for his team and his family. He keeps his cool on the ring and with his friends and family but gets all flustered aroudn Frankie. And I loved it. 

I absolutely loved the way he was with Frankie,supportive and caring without babying her or making her helpless in any way. At the same time, he felt too perfect, without a single weakness. Even the big conflict was all about her accepting his care and love, allowing herself to be loved the way she was.He never did anything wrong. She grew and changed in the course of the story while he stayed is perfect self from start to finish. 

Se really stood out for me. A complex character dealing with serious health issues and being underestimated and underappreciated by most people around her. She navigated falling in love and having a serious relationship for the first with the inescapable mistake from time to time.

I loved their relationship, we see a lot of them together as a couple, the changes this brings into their lives, the gradual opening up with each other. 

All that said, I also had some issues with the book. Besides the boring perfection of Ren, I felt the felt the author tried to include all the tropes and it was just too much - forced proximity, illness (hospital stay), virgin hero, confessions under the influence. This is very much a personal thing but I found some of Frankie's language and humour crass and didn't enjoy it. 

Despite these issues, I still want to read more in this series, book one h as a deaf hero and a footballer heroine and the next one is a marriage in trouble one, both sound very much right up my alley. 

CW: Hospital stay, sports trauma, medicinal drug use 

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