Fantasy

Review: Malachite by Kirby Crow

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Title: Malachite (Paladin Cycle #1)
Author: Kirby Crow
Genre: High fantasy, M/M 
Release Date: 01 Jan 2016

Author's links:
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My rating: 3.5 Stars


Synopsis

Marion Casterline is the highwarden of Malachite, an ancient, beautiful city floating in a shallow sea. In the aftermath of a brutal gang war, there is finally peace in the city, and new life every year through the sacred ritual of Aequora. Through Aequora, exiles, outlaws, and orphans can become citizens of Malachite. This ritual is vital to the city's survival, because Malachite is populated only by males. 

Jean Rivard grew up in the Zanzare slums at Marion's side. As boys, they were branded into the violent Teschio gangs ruling the criminal underworld of Malachite. Known in the slums as the Prince, Jean became a spy, an assassin, and Marion's lover. As men, they worked together to destroy the Teschio and crown Kon Sessane as magestros of the city, only to drift apart after the battles were won: Jean to the Black Keep, Marion to the grand halls of the Consolari. 

When Marion announces his engagement to Kon's son, Jean is hurt and resentful. Marion is leaving him and their past behind in every possible way. Marion also believes that he's starting a new life, but when a charismatic rebel leader kindles a revolt in the slums, he realizes that the only man who can prevent war from devouring the city he loves is his very own prince. 


Review


This is my first book by Kirby Crow and can also be considered my first try of M/M high fantasy. I was curious to read this story after seeing the blurb and I absolutely loved the cover. 

This is a well written, complex story and while I loved some elements in it, there were others that made me feel uneasy and uncomfortable. 

This is the first book in a new series and as such there is a lot of world building and scene setting. It felt a bit overwhelming at the beginning though I appreciate the complex and quite intriguing world Ms Crow has set on creating. 

There is a love story at the heart of the this book but I'd classify it as high fantasy with strong romantic elements rather than a fantasy romance. 

The plot moves between the present and past while telling the story of Marrion and Jean  and young Tris who has become part of their lives quite unexpectedly and his presence provoked profound changes in both older men. 

I wasn't sure how I felt about the romantic relationship initially but by the end of the book I was totally convinced that they all ended at the right place for them. It was a very moving and satisfying journey in terms of romance. I admit the casual attitude towards sex, the multiple partners they (well, in fact, just Jean) entertained throughout the story was not my favourite element in it but at the same time it did not bother me too much. It is a matter of personal preference and attitude towards love and sex, not a weakness of the story. 

My biggest issue with this book is the way women were presented/erased from the fantasy world Ms Crow created. This bit of my review might have some spoilers, so if that bothers you, please keep it in mind and proceed with caution. There are no women in Malachite, or rather we are led to believe so initially. There are other kingdoms run be women and they are all presented as vicious, aggressive (humiliating, mistreating, raping the men, sending them in exile). It all felt misogynistic and hurtful to me. later on, Tris' mother is briefly mentioned and the way I see it, once again we have a woman presented in a negative light - not loving, caring enough to stay on the island (in hiding) and be with her son. The treatment and presentation of women as whole was problematic for me. It's a plot line that will hopefully be further developed in the next books and I hope things will go in a more positive light, but they didn't quite work for me here.

To be completely honest I feel somewhat ambiguous about the whole society in Malachite. I read it as imperfect and deeply problematic but I'm not sure if that was the author's message or she wanted to present it as a good/better alternative to the other matrichal society mentioned in the book and our present-day society. It could my failure to grasp the author's intentions but it could equally be a weakness of the author's writing not making the situation cleat enough. I keep going over and over that and still have not fully made up my mind how I feel about it. 

Overall, I'd say Malachite was an interesting read, thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time. I loved the writing - strong and highly imaginative. Despite my issues with some elements in the story, I'm curious how this series will continue and would love read the next book.

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Kobo / iBooks

You can now check Amazon Instant Kindle preview of this book -  PREVIEW

Contemporary Romance

Joint Review: Hearts in Darkness and Love in the Light by Laura Kaye

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Titlle: Hearts in Darkness (Heart of Darkness #1)
Author: Laura Kaye
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance / novella
Release Date: 17 May 2013

Author's links:
Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads
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My rating: 4 Stars



Synopsis

Two strangers…

Makenna James thinks her day can't get any worse, until she finds herself stranded in a pitch-black elevator with a complete stranger. Distracted by a phone call, the pin-striped accountant catches only a glimpse of a dragon tattoo on his hand before the lights go out.

Four hours…

Caden Grayson is amused when a harried redhead dashes into his elevator fumbling her bags and cell phone. His amusement turns to panic when the power fails. Despite his piercings, tats, and vicious scar, he's terrified of the dark and confined spaces. Now, he's trapped in his own worst nightmare.

One pitch-black elevator…

To fight fear, they must reach out and open up. With no preconceived notions based on looks to hold them back, they discover just how much they have in common. In the warming darkness, attraction grows and sparks fly, but will they feel the same when the lights come back on?



Titlle: Love in the Light (Heart of Darkness #1)
Author: Laura Kaye
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance / novella
Release Date: 9Jjan 2016

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

My rating: 4 Stars


Synopsis

Two hearts in the darkness… 

Makenna James and Caden Grayson have been inseparable since the day they were trapped in a pitch-black elevator and found acceptance and love in the arms of a stranger. Makenna hopes that night put them on the path to forever—which can’t happen until she introduces her tattooed, pierced, and scarred boyfriend to her father and three over-protective brothers.

Must fight for love in the light…

Haunted by a childhood tragedy and the loss of his family, Caden never thought he’d find the love he shares with Makenna. But the deeper he falls, the more he fears the devastation sure to come if he ever lost her, too. When meeting her family doesn’t go smoothly, Caden questions whether Makenna deserves someone better, stronger, and just more…normal. Maybe they’re too different—and he’s far too damaged—after all… 


Review


I decided to review these books together since I read them almost one after the other. I've been meaning to read Heart of Darkness ever since release in 2013 but somehow I never got to it. When I heard there would be a sequel coming in the beginning of 2016, I finally put it top of my TBR list and read it. And then I read the sequel on release day!

In short, I very much enjoyed both books. 

Now, in more details. 

I really like the setting of book 1, two people getting stuck in an elevator for a couple of hours in the dark. It's not the most realistic meet-cute for a long-term relationship but I found it very well done. It's a novella- length story but the characters were well developed and I quickly got invested in their stories. I loved how they opened to one another under the guise of darkness. 

Caden was really special, I loved how tough and rugged he appeared on the outside, yet he was fighting a brutal inner battle. His clinical depression and claustrophobia just made him real and easy to relate. It was not overdone or sappy, it felt real and honest to me and I loved it. His closed off appearance and distrust of people made sense and I loved how Makenna seemed to appreciate and accept all of him - his strengths and weaknesses. 

Makenna was a great character as well, independent and smart, the good girl who falls for the damaged bad boy (it appeared so on the surface but in reality we saw two people with their scars and battles coming together). She didn't want to save or change him, just to be with him and what happened in that elevator, the secrets they shared, set them off on the road of an interesting journey of coming together as a couple. 

The story ends with the promise of tehir HEA together and I'm glad the author chose to explore their journey into coupledom in more detail in a sequel.

Here things start where they left off in book 1 - Makenna and Caden are together and getting serious about it. Once again I felt taht Caden was the star of the story. They face a number of challenges - their relationship moves too quickly, meeting Makenna's family for the holiday, an ex trying to win her back, it all added to much stress for Caden to handle on his own. And he got lost. His journey away from Makenna on a road of self-destruction was heart-breaking, yet compelling to read. It felt real to me, though I don't have first had experience of such issues. 

The conflict was not just a big misunderstand or confusion, it was deeper, something that they both needed to work on in order to be able to move forward. 

The ending was a bit on the sweet side for me and took away some of edginess and realism of the story. Still, I quite enjoyed both books, they are little jems, highing serious issues behind some lighthearted and sexy romance. I can wholeheartedly recommend them both. 

Purchase links for Hearts in Darkness: Amazon / B&N / Kobo / iBooks / ARe

Purchase links for Love in the Light: Amazon / B&N / KoboiBooks / ARe

gamers

Review: Strong Signal by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell

05:08

Title: Strong Signal (Cyberlove #1)
Authors: Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell
Genre/Themes: Contemporary mm romance / gamers / military
Release Date: 15 Feb 2016


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My rating: 5 Stars



Synopsis


I was counting down the months until the end of my deployment. My days were spent working on military vehicles, and I spent my nights playing video games that would distract me until I could leave Staff Sergeant Garrett Reid behind.

That was when I met him: Kai Bannon, a fellow gamer with a famous stream channel. 

I never expected to become fixated on someone who'd initially been a rival. And I'd never expected someone who oozed charm to notice me—a guy known for his brutal honesty and scowl. I hadn't planned for our online friendship to turn into something that kept me up at night—hours of chatting evolving into filthy webcam sessions.

But it did. And now I can't stop thinking about him. In my mind, our real life meeting is perfect. We kiss, we fall into bed, and it's love at first sight.

Except, like most things in my life, it doesn't go as planned.

Review


I have already read a couple of books both by Santino Hassell and Megan Erickson and quite enjoyed them. When I heard they have written something together I was excited to read it and when I got an early copy for review and dove straight into it.

I admit I am not much of gamer and I hadn't heard of Twitch before reading this book but all the gaming and online communication flew smoothly through the story and I found it surprising easy to relate to. I have my own past experience with online dating/connecting with new people. I actually met my husband in an online photography forum though since we lived in the same city we moved to offline contact pretty quickly.

Now, about Kai and Garrett - in one word, I absolutely loved their story. It's told from dual POV and loved being privy to their thoughts and emotions with such directness and clarity.

Garrett and Kai seem rather different and the thing that connects them and brings them together initially was gaming. Garrett is gay guy in the Army, deep in the closet, having dirty sex with people who preternd they don't know him after that. Kai is a popular gamers, openly gay, yet very much shut off from the real world, living almost fully in the virtual space.

I liked how the authors explored their connection, the way Kai and Garrett opened to one another, despite things happening long-distance. They both had legitimate concerns about stalking, catfishing, and all the risks involved in taking an online relationship into real life. And added to this were their own personal issues - Kai's panic attacks when he leaves his home, Garrett hiding his sexuality, stressing about getting a good job after leaving the army.

Their relationship was based on chemistry and love and support and understanding of each other but it all came gradually and things were not always easy. I think one of the main strengths of the story which makes it an unforgettable read for me is the balance the authors achieved between funny and fluffy and loving and adorable on the one hand and the raw and gritty reality of low/middle class young people - the dangers of being unemployed, all the frustrations of sorting your life financial and professionally, all this couple with the dangers and attractions of online relationships.

This is not a fairytale online romance, it's real and it's both beautiful and heart-breaking at times. There are no easy solutions in life and there a lot of things one has to fight for but having someone by your side who supports you and understands you and ultimately loves you is the greatest gift.

Finding each other did not magically solve the issues Kai and Garrett had. Love does not cure your panic attacks, it doesn't  help you get your dream job but it is a great stimulus for continue forward when things get rough.

Neither Kai, nor Garrett had previous experience in being in a relationship, caring for someone else, having someone else in their lives they had include in their plans, someone they love enough to search for compromise, for the best solution for everyone. They learned together how to be a couple, how to fit into the world of grown-ups and right the place in it that made them happy.

I loved this collaboration between Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell and I'm already looking for the next book in this series and I'm sure it will be just as awesome! In the meantime, don't hesitate to read this story, I only have the highest praise for it.


Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Kobo / iBooks

PS: My blog is part of the release day blitz for Strong Singal and you can enter a Rafflecopter giveaway for a Kindle Fire - HERE


M/M romance

Release Day Blitz for Strong Signal by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell

23:37

Strong Signal is here and it is fabulous, so go ahead and read it right away!


I was lucky to read an ARC of this book and absolutely loved. I will be reviewing it on the blog later this week. In the meantime here is all the info you need about Strong Signal.

Title: Strong Signal
Authors: Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell
Genre/Themes: Contemporary mm romance / gamers / military
Release Date: 15 Feb 2016

Add on Goodreads

My rating: 5 Stars




Synopsis

I was counting down the months until the end of my deployment. My days were spent working on military vehicles, and I spent my nights playing video games that would distract me until I could leave Staff Sergeant Garrett Reid behind.

That was when I met him: Kai Bannon, a fellow gamer with a famous stream channel. 

I never expected to become fixated on someone who'd initially been a rival. And I'd never expected someone who oozed charm to notice me—a guy known for his brutal honesty and scowl. I hadn't planned for our online friendship to turn into something that kept me up at night—hours of chatting evolving into filthy webcam sessions.

But it did. And now I can't stop thinking about him. In my mind, our real life meeting is perfect. We kiss, we fall into bed, and it's love at first sight.

Except, like most things in my life, it doesn't go as planned.

*Strong Signal is a standalone, full-length novel with no cliffhanger*

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Kobo / iBooks


Now, here is some more info about the authors:

Megan Erickson is a former journalist who switched to fiction when she decided she liked writing her own endings better. She likes to pretend she has control now, but usually her characters are the ones who hold the reins. Her romance novels have a touch of humor, a dash of nerdy, and always a happily ever after. 

She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and two cats named after John Hughes characters. She's still waiting for the party she was promised when she grew to five feet... maybe because she never got there.



Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school cutting grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into an unlikely romance author. 

Santino writes queer romance that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.



Finally, there is awesome giveaway for a Kindle Fire tablet, provided by the authors


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Cathy Yardley

Review: Level Up by Cathy Yardley

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Titlle: Level Up (Fandom Hearts #1)
Author: Cathy Yardley
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance / gamers / fandom
Release Date: 3 Jan 2016

Author's links:
WebsiteTwitter / Facebook / Goodreads
Add on Goodreads

My rating: 3.5 Stars


Synopsis

Geeky introvert Tessa Rodriguez will do whatever it takes to get promoted to video game engineer– including create a fandom-based video game in just three weeks. The only problem is, she can't do it alone. Now, she needs to strong-arm, cajole, and otherwise socialize with her video game coworkers, especially her roommate, Adam, who’s always been strictly business with her. The more they work together, though, the closer they get…

Adam London has always thought of his roomie Tessa as “one of the guys” until he agreed to help her with this crazy project. Now, he’s thinking of her all the time… and certainly as something more than just a roommate! But his last girlfriend broke up with him to follow her ambitions, and he knows that Tessa is obsessed with getting ahead in the video game world.

Going from friends to something more is one hell of a challenge. Can Tessa and Adam level up their relationship to love?

Review 


I picked this book for free a couple of weeks ago (and still is!) because I was intrigued by the premise - a geek gamers' romance with a Latina heroine who is a real game coder and is trying to fit in professionally with the rest of the boys in the game making/designing business. 

Overall, I enjoyed this light and fun romance a lot. It has a an easy flow to it and I found the characters believable in their struggles into adulthood. 

It's a friends (roommates)-to-lovers trope which I generally enjoy and found it pretty convincing here. Tessa was an introvert and a geek, focused on getting ahead professionally and not really good with social interactions. Adam on the other hand, was more outgoing and laidback at the same time, though he was struggling through the betrayal of his ex-girlfriend who left him for a better job in NY. 

I quite liked both Tessa and Adam and they were adorable together, both resisting the attraction to one another because of fear it would destroy their easy friendship (and being colleagues, just further complicated things for them). 

Adam's friends (who are also coders in the same company) and the group of girls Tessa befriends also fitted very well into the story. Together they made a very sweet romcom - geeky, full of pop culture trivia and fandom references but also easy to follow and relate to even if you are not a gamer or into fandoms. 

What I liked the most is how refreshingly normal the characters and their issues were - just ordinary young people navigating the tricky road between professional success and personal relationships. While reading, I kept thinking yes, thisis real, this could happen to anyone. 

I have some minor issues with the writing which felt repetitive at the times (certain phrases were used far too often). I also felt the the strong the anti-homophobic and feminist messages, which I greatly appreciate, came off preachy and overimposed on the story/characters rather than an intrinsic part of the narrative. 

Still, I very much appreciate the diversity aspect of the story, it's stance on equality and freedom of choice. Overall, this is a fun, easy romance, refreshingly everyday while successful avoiding most of the genre cliches.

Purchase links (FREE): Amazon / Smashwords 

Contemporary Romance

Review: Magic Mansion by Jordan Castillo Price

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Titlle: Magic Mansion
Author: Jordan Castillo Price
Genre/Themes: MM romance / magicians / reality show
Release Date: 10 April 2012

Author's links:
Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads
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My rating: 4.5 Stars



Synopsis

Professor Topaz is tired of fending off advice that he should retire in Vegas where magicians his age have an easier time finding work.

Ricardo Hart's career has sunk so low, he's resorted to shaking his moneymaker at bachelorette parties.

But there's a casting call for a new reality show called Magic Mansion that could change everything for these two gay stage magicians, one recovering from the loss of his partner, the other awe-struck by the presence of his idol. Each is poised for a critical second chance: at fame, and at love.

Who will win? Step into the Mansion, and find out....

Review


This was such an expected and pleasant read! I do love magic and though I'm not a fan of reality shows, I'm curious how they can be presented in fiction. I'm a big fan of Ms Price' writing - imaginative, great world building and attention to detail and powerful and unforgettable characters, so I decided to give it a try.

Now, romances with big age differences are not my thing usually and initially I had some worries about that aspect of the story but as it turns out I can trust Ms Price completely to build a believable and ultimately, very tender, very real and emotional love story. It was Professor Topaz and Richardo the Magnificent romance that I loved the most in this book.

The setting was also great - a reality show with magicians going through all sort of challenges to get the big prize. Ms Price created a whole cast of intriguing magicians and TV crew thus giving the reader a rich, realistic world where the passion and chemistry between the Professor and Richardo shone so brightly. 

At times I felt their romance was overshadowed by the reality show element in the story but it didn't prevent me from enjoying the slow build up of their romance. In a things happened rather quickly between them, the I-love-yous were said somewhat in a hurry, and at the same time it all felt excruciatingly slow because being in a reality show did not allow them to really come together as a couple till the end. 

I liked them both but the Professor definitely stole the show for me. His journey back to being able to give and receive love (at the age of 63) was phenomenal - so personal and intimate. There is a depth to his character and his emotions that I find irresistible. Richardo was his opposite, at least in appearance - easy going and fun and caring. He is the kind of person that is easy to love and be friends with but he had his fears and insecurities to overcome and so many dreams to follow through. Together they complemented each other in the best possible way and made a mesmerising couple. You can't help but want them to overcome all odds and find happiness together. 

This a contemporary romance with strong social elements, yet there is a touch of paranormal in it, we are talking about magicians after all, I loved how it was interwoven in the story. The reader is pretty much grounded in reality with the brutally honest presentation of the what happens behind the scene of a reality show and the small leaps into the True Magic scattered throughout the story were a pure pleasure to read. 

Magic Mansion is a sweet and tender a love story but also a story about life in general - about finding happiness, being successful, forming friendships and just interacting with people. It plays a lot with ideas of identity and projected image, making the reader look deeper into things to find their true significance and ultimately appreciate all the things that bring us joy and make us laugh and love and feel complete.

Purchase links: Amazon / Smashwords / iTunes


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Comedy

Review: Happily Ever Ninja by Penny Reid

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Title: Happily Ever Ninja (Knitting in the City #5)
Author: Penny Reid
Date of publication: 19 January 2016
Genre: Contemporary Romance

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

My rating: 3 stars



Synopsis

There are three things you need to know about Fiona Archer… I would tell you what they are, but then I’d have to kill you.

But I can tell you that Fiona’s husband—the always irrepressible and often cantankerous Greg Archer—is desperately in love with his wife. He aches for her when they are apart, and is insatiable when they are together. Yet as the years pass, Greg has begun to suspect that Fiona is a ninja. A ninja mom. A ninja wife. A ninja friend. After fourteen years of marriage, Greg is trying not to panic. Because Fiona’s talent for blending in is starting to resemble fading away.

However, when unexpected events mean Fiona must take center stage to keep her family safe, her response stuns everyone—Greg most of all. It seems like Greg’s wish has come true. 

Except… not. 

When all is said and done, can Greg handle this new version of his wife? Will his irrepressible cantankerousness push her away? Or can the couple find a way forward without either being forced to step back into the shadows?

Review 


I've been a fan of Ms Reid's writing from the very beginning, back in 2013 when she published the first book in the Knitting in the City series, Neanderthal Seeks Human. I have enjoyed all the books in the series so far, some I liked more than others less, but they all were fun to read. 

I was excited to read Greg and Fiona's story since I very much like the marriage-in-trouble trope and there are not that many contemporary romances out there dealing with it. I read the prequel (Available for free/Amazon), which tells the story of Fiona and Greg when they first met and got together in  college. I found it a beautiful romantic story and was very much intrigued to see how they were doing years later as a married couple with children.

Happily Ever Ninja has the same distinctive feel as the previous books in the series. The hero and heroine are not awkward (or are rather not as awkward) but they both are badass ninjas (in their own way). Unfortunately I couldn't quite connect with either Fiona or Greg. Their marriage and their relationship were so different from my understanding of marriage and being with someone. It bothered me that they both kept secrets, important ones, from each other. For two people who were so much in love, they didn't really share much and pretty much  did what they thought was best without consulting/sharing it with the other.

They went through their fair share of crazy shenanigans and even some more. I enjoyed some of it, but at the same time it felt repetitive, like I've already seen this and was expecting something new. Fiona and Greg had the same discussions again and again and the result was always the same - one of them totally disregarded the opion of the other and did his/her thing.

Overall, this story didn't feel as real as the previous ones in the series. It was both too much and too little. I wanted more real connection between Fiona and Greg and less over-the-top craziness.

This not a bad book, just not as good as the rest of Ms. Reid's books. Fans of the series might enjoy it more and I urge them not to skip it, because it's a nice romance after all and it also shows us more of our favourite knitting club ladies and their partners.

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Kobo / iTunes

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