Jessie Mihalik

Review: Polaris Rising and Aurora Blazing by Jessie Mihalik

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Title: Polaris Rising (Consortium rebellion #1)
Author: Jessie Mihalik
Publication Date: 5 Feb 2019
Genres: Sci-Fi Romance

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

My rating: 3 Stars



Blurb

A space princess on the run and a notorious outlaw soldier become unlikely allies in this imaginative, sexy space opera adventure—the first in an exciting science fiction trilogy.

In the far distant future, the universe is officially ruled by the Royal Consortium, but the High Councillors, the heads of the three High Houses, wield the true power. As the fifth of six children, Ada von Hasenberg has no authority; her only value to her High House is as a pawn in a political marriage. When her father arranges for her to wed a noble from House Rockhurst, a man she neither wants nor loves, Ada seizes control of her own destiny. The spirited princess flees before the betrothal ceremony and disappears among the stars.

Ada eluded her father’s forces for two years, but now her luck has run out. To ensure she cannot escape again, the fiery princess is thrown into a prison cell with Marcus Loch. Known as the Devil of Fornax Zero, Loch is rumored to have killed his entire chain of command during the Fornax Rebellion, and the Consortium wants his head.

When the ship returning them to Earth is attacked by a battle cruiser from rival House Rockhurst, Ada realizes that if her jilted fiancĂ© captures her, she’ll become a political prisoner and a liability to her House. Her only hope is to strike a deal with the dangerous fugitive: a fortune if he helps her escape.

But when you make a deal with an irresistibly attractive Devil, you may lose more than you bargained for . . .

Review 

I read those sci-fi romance one right after the other and decided to do a joint review.

I loved the sci-fi element, the world building was elaborate and intriguing, there was lots of court politics and drama and backstabbing. MCs had grweat chemistry and I absolutely bought their HEA but overall I felt the romance took a backseat to the suspense/adventure plot.

Loch is big silent hero, Ada is a strong independent heroine and they started as adversaries if not outright enemies but had to work together and initial lust between them gradually turned into a hard-earned trust and true intimacy. I appreciate how they were equal in many way despite how their different background and social position. They helped each other, rescued each other.

Loch had the best qualities of an alpha hero - loyal, protective but also respecting his partner and openly admiring her strength.

Ada is no damsel in distress waiting to be saved. She is very much her own saviour. Both were guarding their hearts and falling in love and opening up to each other was a pleasure to read.

This is a fun and exciting story, full of twists and turns, fast-paced, unpredictable.

There were great supporting characters, a lovely second romance plot. It provided a great set up fo rth next book.

I can recommend it to fans of sci-fi and romance readers who don't mind the love story coming second to the suspense for most of the book.

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Title: Aurora Blazing Consortium rebellion #2)
Author: Jessie Mihalik
Publication Date: 1 Oct 2019
Genres: Sci-Fi Romance

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

My rating: 3 Stars


Blurb 

Bianca von Hasenberg did her duty for High House von Hasenberg and ended up trapped in a terrible marriage. When her husband dies unexpectedly and leaves her a happy widow, she vows never to marry again. Instead, she uses her connections to save other young women. Information is power and Bianca has a network that would be the envy of the ’verse—if anyone knew about it. Bianca von Hasenberg did her duty for High House von Hasenberg and ended up trapped in a terrible marriage. When her husband dies unexpectedly and leaves her a happy widow, she vows never to marry again. Instead, she uses her connections to save other young women. Information is power and Bianca has a network that would be the envy of the ’verse—if anyone knew about it.

After an attack, Bianca’s oldest brother, the House von Hasenberg heir, disappears from Earth without a trace. Determined to find him, Bianca leaves against orders. When she refuses to return, her father sends Ian Bishop, the director of House von Hasenberg security, to haul her home like a recalcitrant child.

Bianca leads Ian on a merry chase across the universe, but when their paths finally collide, she persuades him that they would be far more successful at finding her brother if they worked together. She will do anything to save her sibling, even if it means spending time alone on a small ship with the handsome, infuriating man who once broke her heart.

As clues lead them deep into rival House Rockhurst territory, Bianca must decide if she can trust Ian with the one piece of information that could destroy her completely. . .

Review 

Book 1 made me super excited for Bianca's story and it indeed started great but just like with Ada's story, the romance plot lost track somewhere around the middle and the suspense/adventure took too much center stage for my liking. It's sort of enemies to lovers romance, again slow burn like the previous book in the series and while not as developed as I wanted it to be, I believed in the romance and their HEA.

On the good side, Bianca reminded me of Nalini Singh's psy characters but more human. My heart broke for her and the secret she had to keep from everyone and at the same time I was in absolute awe of her strength and resilience (very much like Ian when he allowed himself to admit it).

They had a complicated history between them - he rejected her once and her pride didn't let her seek his attentions again. At the same time his position as head of security for her family added further stress to their interactions. He felt responsible for keeping her safe but she hated that he saw her (only) as a damsel in distress. They bonded over their mission to save her brother and the walls they had built up around their hearts started crumbling down. I loved how their relationship showed a lot care for each other and also mutual respect for the abilities of the other person.

The suspense/adventure plot was brilliant and enjoyed it a lot. It was fast-paced, the tension was even higher than in book 1. We got deeper into the Houses politics, and I enjoyed the focus on the issues of trust - how to earn one's trust, how to keep it, a promise is a promise, a sense of duty and not letting down the people who trust and rely on you.

Sadly, I was disappointed by the ending. It felt rushed and left too many plot lines unresolved. I hope we will get our answers in the next book (about the third sister) but I still was completely satisfied with the ending here. 

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femdom

Review: The Gilded Cage by KJ Charles

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Blurb

Once upon a time a boy from a noble family fell in love with a girl from the gutter. It went as badly as you’d expect.

Seventeen years later, Susan Lazarus is a renowned detective, and Templeton Lane is a jewel thief. She’s tried to arrest him, and she’s tried to shoot him. They’ve never tried to talk.

Then Templeton is accused of a vicious double murder. Now there’s a manhunt out for him, the ports are watched, and even his best friends have turned their backs. If he can’t clear his name, he’ll hang.

There’s only one person in England who might help Templeton now...assuming she doesn’t want to kill him herself.



Review 

This is a queer m/f (heroine is bisexual) historical which is still relatively rare occurrence in romance. Unlike the first book in the series which didn't quite work for me, this one hit all my sweet spots and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a second chance romance, friends-to-enemies-to-lovers (again) with a strong mystery/suspense plot.

I loved both Susan and Templeton but she is outstanding. I liked she was unremarkable in appearanc and used that to her advantage to succeed in a male-dominated field. She was OK with her looks but to him was beautiful, perfect inside and outside. I loved how much he valued her strength and determination. 

Templeton was very much the kind of romance hero I like, he was big and strong but also aware how his size could be intimidating to women. He was a true gentle giant who wanted to do everything to please Susan and make her happy.

There is a light femdom element in their relationship, the desire to make your partner feel good, to serve, to be there for them. It started with both of them discussing and overcoming the mistakes they both made with respect to each other in the past. It was not so much about forgiveness but rather about accepting the past and moving one, appreciating the present and looking forward to a future together.

The story had a strong presence of found family (and a terrible bio one) which was glorious and supportive and everything one can wish for in a family/close circle of friends. 

The road towards HEA was not without obstacles but the ending was just perfect and felt right for both Susan (who was very anti-marriage) and for Templeton (who was pro marriage but more importantly, he was pro whatever made Susan happy). I liked that the end gave them the possibility for happiness with or without official marriage.

The book works as standalone though I would recommend reading at least An Unnatural Vice (where we meet Susan for the first time). 

CW: miscarraige (in the past), violence, murder investigation

Penny Reid

Review: Beard with Me by Penny Reid

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Title: Beard with Me (Winston Brothers #6)
Author: Penny Reid
Publication Date: 16 Sept 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Humor, Romance

Author's links: WebsiteTwitterFacebookGoodreads

My rating: 4.5 Stars

Blurb 

‘Beard With Me’ is the origin story of Billy Winston and Scarlet St. Claire (aka Claire McClure) and is just the beginning of their epic love story.

No one is better at surviving than Scarlet St. Claire and making the best out of circumstances beyond her control is Scarlet’s specialty. In an apocalyptic situation, she’d be the last person on earth, hermitting like a pro, singing along to her CD Walkman, and dancing like no one is watching.

Scarlet is clever, Scarlet is careful, and Scarlet is smart . . . except when it comes to Billy Winston.

No one is better at fighting than Billy Winston and raging against his circumstances—because nothing is beyond his control—is Billy’s specialty. In an apocalyptic situation, he’d be the first person on earth to lead others to safety, overcome catastrophe, or die trying.

Billy is fearless, Billy is disciplined, and Billy is honorable . . . except when it comes to Scarlet St. Claire.

Review

It’s the start of Claire (here Scarlet) and Billy’s epic love story. This takes us back in time when they were teenagers and their love did not have a happy ending then. 

I loved it, even though I had some issues with it. It’s moving, angsty, with the final 10% being particularly intense and making me cry the whole time I was reading them. 

It’s told from dual POV and paints a very dark picture of their teen years - we see them both working hard on making the best of a very difficult situation. All that happens in this book explains who they have become as adults.

I loved seeing more of Cletus too and his own growth and change. Billy was amazing despite the mistakes he made. It was all done following a deep desire to care for everyone, to help, to support, to keep the people he loved safe from harm. 

Claire is really young here, only 14 years of age. She has been through so much in life already and that’s has made her distrustful and cautious. I liked her voice and I felt deeply for everything she was going through. 

As regards the romance, it was all about the magic of first love - the confusion,the thrill and anticipation coupled with doubts and trepidation at facing something for the first time. I liked how they worked out through their feelings for each other, starting for distrust, going through friendship and care to love and desire to be together.

At the same time despite it being kisses only and there was nothing graphic, I was disturbed by the way others sexualised Scarlet and the very descriptions of her desires/reactions made me uncomfortable. It’s likely a me thing but it was there and I didn’t like it. I was particularly bothered by Ben’s behaviour though I believe I was meant to feel that way about him and I am not hopeful about his actions towards Scarlet in the future. 

Another thing that bothered me and I want to draw specific attention to it is the author’s casual attitude towards CWs expressed in the beginning of the book. I have been a fan of Penny Reid’s since she published her first book but I can’t overlook how dismissive she was about CWs. This book deals with some very heavy subject matter and I believe readers deserve information about that before starting the book. I will list my CWs in the end of my review. 

This is somewhat spoilerish but it's important for me to mention it: the pregnancy and miscarriage plot didn’t quite work for me. It felt just a plot device and didn’t fit seamlessly in the story.

The ending was very emotionally heavy, not only because the MCs don’t get together but rather because we leave them when their lives are in complete shambles. I love the insight this story gives into why the Winston brothers and their sister end up the way they are when we met them in their own books. 

CW: child abuse, cutting, violence, severe beating, accidental pregnancy and miscarriage, parental neglect, underage drinking 

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Alix E. Harrow

Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

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Title: The Ten Thousand Doors of January 
Author: Alix E. Harrow
Genre /Tropes: Portal fantasy with romantic elements
Release Date: 10 September 2019

Author's links:

My rating: 5 Stars



Blurb 

In the early 1900s, a young woman embarks on a fantastical journey of self-discovery after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Review 

What a thrilling adventure this book has been. It’s a debut full length novel for the author and a truly magical fantasy, engagingly written and it had a huge impact on me. 

It's a portal fantasy about exploring other worlds and finding your place in them. There is a moving side love story which I absolutely enjoyed, there are even two of them if you ask me. 

I don't want to go into details of the plot, so I will focus more on what I loved and how this book made me feel. 

January is such a great character, I loved seeing her grow and change and become her own person. There are lots of adventures, some dark undertones but no true horror elements. 

At the heart of it for me this is a powerful story about love and wandering and storytelling. I feel I like I have highlighted most of the book, so many passages spoke to my heart - about the power of the words, the importance of change, the sense of (not)-belonging, love - between partners, in the family, among friends. 

The first half was somewhat slow-paced, more about setting the stage and the second half was full of adventure and action. There were lots of twists and turns to plot and found myself unable to put the book down. 

The writing is exquisite, it made me cry and broke my heart but also made me happy and hopeful. And that epilogue, it’s a thing of beauty. 

CW (as per the author and my own interpretation of the text): Abuse - physical and psychological; manipulation; violence against animals; forced hospitalization in mental hospital; mind control; racism; sexism; self-harm imagery (without intent to self-harm); violence; colonialism.

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Contemporary Romance

Review: Undercover by Rebecca Crowley

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Title: Undercover (London Phoenix #2)
Author: Rebecca Crowley
Genre /Tropes: Contemporary romance, journalist investigation
Release Date: 17 September 2019

Author's links:

My rating: 4 Stars

Blurb 

The assignment has a deadline, but does their relationship?

After almost ten years dodging bullets as a foreign correspondent, Asher Brody is struggling to find his place back in the U.K. – and in his family-run newspaper, the London Phoenix. He’s intent on proving he’s as committed as his brothers, even if it means putting on a suit and posh accent to investigate a high-ranking executive at an upscale retreat.

Ada Hunter wasted years trailing her ex-boyfriend, only for him to turn his back when her documentary career finally took off. Now she’s beating her own path, and it’s taking her all over the world. To secure funding for her next project, she takes a risky job with the Phoenix posing as broody-sexy Asher’s fake girlfriend – too good to be true.

They plan to spend a few days pretending to be a couple at a country estate before going their separate ways. But when bad weather strands them in the countryside, temptation develops into something more and the line between fantasy and reality becomes dangerously blurred. 

Review 

This is the second book in the London Phoenix series and I enjoyed it much more than the first book. I found the conflict more believable and really liked both MCs.

It starts pretty similarly to book 1 but this time the accidental hook-up was interrupted before it actually happened and led to some fake dating and surprise, surprise, love. 

There is an element of forced proximity in the romance and it worked really well for me. I liked how the MCs worked to get their goals and in the process helped each other.

Ada was pretty certain who she was, she had reasons not to want a relationship and to focus on her career at that time. Asher seemed to be at a different stage in his life, he wanted stability and permanence after years being a reporter in the field and after a painful break up with his ex. 

There was a reversal of the traditional roles here - the woman was confident and self-assured and didn't want a relationship; the man was having his doubts about who he was and what he wanted (a serious committed relationship, being settled in one place). He had to repeatedly remind himself that it was a fake relationship and they had a specific goal in mind, there was no room for feelings. 

The story reached a point where I knew one of them had to make a compromise and I wasn't sure who it would be and honestly, I didn't know whom I was rooting for to do it. I'm very happy with the ending where they found the right balance for things between them to work out in the long term. 

I liked the relationship between the three brothers, how they worked together in the newspaper and all the glimpses we got of them trying to be closer to each other, sticking together after the death of their mother, continuing some family traditions and establishing new ones of their own. 

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Alexis Hall

Review: Arden St. Ives series by Alexis Hall

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Review 

I got an ARC of the final book in the series, so I binge read all three books in a week. What an emotional journey this has been. As usual I find myself lost for words when it comes to reviewing Alexis Hall’s books, so this won't be a very eloquent or coherent review, I'm afraid. I tend to have a very emotional reaction to his stories which makes my reviews more personal than usual.

On the surface and judging by the titles ans covers this is a billionaire m/m romance but the more I read the more I saw it as a story about two people with troubled pasts find their ways to each other. A bildungsromans of sorts for Ardy in particular, but very much for Caspian too.

The story is told exclusively from Ardy's POV and I loved the easy flow and multitude of things going on that made me eager to keep reading in order to find out how it will end.

Something, Alexis Hall does really, really well in my opinion is the creation of characters who feel real, human, with flaws and strengths. And this was very much the case here. It's not just Ardy and Caspian but almost every minor character was interesting and I got engaged in their stories. 

I found Ardy so easy to relate to - we see him navigating University, graduation, first serious job, making new friendships and keeping close the old ones, first attempt at a serious relationship. And the pressure there was not because Caspian was a billionaire, it was because of who Caspian is- a trauma survivour riddled with guilt and shame, refusing to accept his past, desperately trying to be someone different than who he is. 

It's a very emotional story both for Ardy and Caspian. Lots of mistakes get made and it's one of the things I particularly liked int he story. The way none of the characters are perfect and they don't always know the right thing to do/say but Ardy is very keen to listen and to learn, Caspian is more reluctant but still ready to make sincere apologies and amends for his mistakes. Even Nathaniel whom I got hate at some point despite understanding the terrible position he found himself to be, so even he is not malicious and only had the best intentions and is ready to admit he has been wrong/misguided in his approach to everything. 

I want to say a few words how trauma is handled in this series. It's not there for shock value or for tragedy p0rn, it's presented a complex issue that needs professional handling, one that affects the deepest corners of one's soul. There is no easy way to deal with it and no magic peen can cure it.

On that note, I am very happy to say that despite the heavy emoptional content of the books none of it due to queerphobia. The issues the characters deal with have nothing to do with them being gay. And the books are so effortlessly queer, it's a joy to read. No token marginalisation, no fetishising, lots of queer characters interacting in multitude of ways - as friends, lovers, in professional capacity. 

I also want to mention how much I loved Ardy's family and how important I found the episode with his biological father. It was disturbing but also very much needed to show a different aspect of Ardy's personality. We get a first-hand look at how powerful manipulation can be, how dangerous people like Ardy's father can be and how Ardy is noting like that.

Caspian and Ardy spent most of book 3 apart, they are both involved with other people, they cheat on them. It was a wild ride, I cried and laughed and wanted to hug them and make it all better for everyone. But I also see how they needed that time apart, how it was important for them to work through their issues on their own before trying to be together. Because we know they can be good together, we saw that already in the previous book.

All in all, I love how Alexis Hall takes apart the conventions of the romance genre and re-arranges them to come up with an unforgettable romance. It's nothing like I have read before, yet it's very much a tropey, swoon-worthy romance.

Just a couple of words on the supporting characters, Ellery, Bellerose, Nik, Nathaniel, George - they are all colourful and unique and give this richness and depth to the world of the books. The romance between Caspian and Ardy doesn't happen in isolation, like real people they are busy doing other things while falling in love.

One of the most loving episodes in the series for me involves Ardy taking care of Bellerose. It encapsulates everything good in this world (together with so much of the bad in it). It's about love and care in its purest form.

The trilogy ends with the sweetest epilogue, full of tenderness and promise. It's the beginning of a long process for Ardy and Caspian of learning how to be together and be happy. And it's why I read romance, for this ultimate moment of hope - love is possible, happiness is possible, the darkness can be defeated.

CW: Assault, sexual abuse (in the past). attempted rape, death of a parent (in the past), stalking and manipulation, drug use, car accident (secondary character), cheating, panic attacks, unprocessed trauma 

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Alix E. Harrow

First Paragraph Monday

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This is not a regular feature but I just started a book with an awesome first paragraph that I just need to share. Here is the start of Ten Thousand Doors of January, debut fantasy with a dash of romance from what I hear, by Alix E. Harrow. And that cover, it's stunning, isn't it? 

When I was seven, I fond a door. I suspect I should capitalize that word, so you understand I'm not talking about garden-or common-variety door that leads reliably to a white-tiles kitchen or a bedroom closet. 



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Architects

Review: Playing House by Ruby Lang

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Author: Ruby Lang
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance, architects/city planners
Release Date: 12 Aug 2019

Author links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads

My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb 

Romance blossoms between two city planners posing as newlyweds in this first in a bright new series by acclaimed author Ruby Lang

The last thing Oliver Huang expects to see on the historic Mount Morris home tour is longtime acquaintance Fay Liu bustling up and kissing him hello. He’s happy to playact being a couple to save her from a pushy admirer. Fay’s beautiful, successful and smart, and if he’s being honest, Oliver has always had a bit of a thing for her.

Maybe more than a bit.

Geeking out over architectural details is Oliver and Fay’s shared love language, and soon they’re touring pricey real estate across Upper Manhattan as the terribly faux but terribly charming couple Darling and Olly.

For the first time since being laid off from the job he loved, Oliver has something to look forward to. And for the first time since her divorce, Fay’s having fun.

Somewhere between the light-filled living rooms and spacious closets they’ve explored, this faux relationship just may have sparked some very real feelings. For Oliver and Fay, home truly is where their hearts are.


Review 

This s a delightful novella about two city planners re-building their lives and falling in love in the meantime. I have read the previous series by this author, Practice Perfect, and I really enjoy her voice and writing style - direct, somewhat abrupt but really fitting to the characters and the stories she tells. 

I liked both MCs here quite a lot. Fay had all the professional success but her personal life was in shambles as she was trying to navigate her it as a new divorcee. Oliver was in more fraught situation than her since he had neither personal, nor professional success (in his own eyes, at least). 

I liked how they got together, the pretense which gave them the freedom to be themselves and to do the things they wanted but under normal circumstances would be hesitant to try. I also love the personal growth they undergo, on their own and while being together. The conflict felt real and it forced them to re-evaluate a lot of things about themselves and what they want their lives to be in the future. 

The story had great secondary characters, Oliver's brother really stood out and I'd love to read his story some day. hey both have complicated relationships with their families.

As a minor drawback, the story was too short and last quarter felt rushed, I would have loved to see more of Fay and Oliver together, adjusting their lives to the new direction they chose for themselves. It feels especially relevant for him because he did make profound changes to his life/future plans.

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jewellery

Things I Liked This Week

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It's been a long, albeit slow week at work but we are experiencing a prolonged summer heat wave, that feels never-ending, so I have been all sweaty and irritable and it doesn't look like things will improve any time soon. 

Amidst the scorching heat that kills my ability to enjoy anything, I have found two videos I want to share with you in my semi-regular Things I Liked This Week post. 

First is this video of making mirrors, it' pretty mundane but for someone like me with not very good understanding of physics and chemistry, it looks fascinating, like a magic trick almost. I found it on pace Explorer make account on Twitter which is dedicate to space exploration and science. I don't don't know that much about either but find them interesting and a nice diversion from the pressure of everyday life, so I immediately followed that account, as one does :)

How Mirrors are Made

This video reminded me about another one which I saw last month, before I started this, and I wanted to share it here because it absolutely deserves it. It's a video of the Italian jewellery artist Pablo Cimadevilla making a gold ring. For those of my readers, my husband is a jeweller, and I have always loved jewellery but because of him I have become more interested in the hows and whys of making jewellery. It turns out that it's much more complicated than it appears on the surface. 

Making a gold butterfly ring: 

You can follow the artist on Facebook or Instagram for more of his work. 




Contemporary Romance

Review: Insider by Rebecca Crowley

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Title: Insider (London Phoenix #1)
Author: Rebecca Crowley
Genre /Tropes: Contemporary romance, journalist investigation
Release Date: 22 August 2019

Author's links:

My rating: 3 Stars


Blurb

ER doctor Grace Reilly thrives on patching up her patients, propping them back on their feet and sending them home healthier, yet emotionally she feels flat on her back after being deceived by her ex-boyfriend. She’s shelved her malfunctioning romantic radar, possibly forever. But she’s not opposed to no strings attached sex, especially when she meets the brooding and enigmatic Oren Brody. Even better? After giving her a mind-blowing orgasm with no reciprocal expectations, he vanishes as mysteriously as he appeared.

Six months ago Oren Brody and his brothers, Asher and Ebon, bought the London Phoenix newspaper to save the esteemed daily from bankruptcy. They need a big scoop or a budget shortfall could shut them down. A confidential tip about corruption and potential medical malfeasance points Oren toward St. Hilda’s Hospital – the same hospital where his mother unexpectedly died after a visit to the ER for a pounding headache. He needs answers, and Grace seems to be the key. He’d tracked her down hoping she could be a source. Seducing her was accidental, but he finds himself unable to ignore their zinging chemistry and he doesn’t really want to.

Oren needs to earn Grace’s trust, but that’s a big ask since their first meeting began with a lie and ended with sexual fireworks. Grace has already been deceived by one lover, can she forgive and forget and give Oren a chance? 

Review 

This is the first book in a new series, the heroine is an ER doctor, the hero - a journalist working to uncover corruption in the hospital where she works.

I would describe this as an explosive start of a new series. I love this author's football series (Atlanta Skyline), one of my favourite contemporary romances of all time. I had high expectations of this series but sadly, they were not quite met. This was a nice romance but ultimately unremarkable. I felt it lacked depth, the characters were underdeveloped and some of the conflict felt forced to me. it could be just that I have come to expect so much more from Rebecca Crowley, it all appeared  lackluster to me. 

Things start off with an off-the-charts anonymous hook up between the MCs which leads to initial distrust by both of them - neither being sure the other isn’t pursuing a hidden agenda. 

They each had their baggage and were reluctant to start a relationship but it all felt forced to me. There is an irresistible chemistry between them but I didn’t particularly like the vibe ‘not-like-other girls/guys’ I got throughout the story. There attraction and deep connection happened right away and I didn’t really buy it, there was nothing to show why they were so attracted to each. I could understand his reasons to some extend but felt she was overreacting and projecting her fears onto him till the very end.

The conflict of him lying/withholding information from her was quickly overcome and then when the black moment of their break-up happened, it felt completely out of place for me. Her reaction to something he did (rather didn’t do) seemed over-the-top and completely illogical. I never got fully invested in the characters and their issues. Both of them seemed melodramatic and their reactions didn’t appear genuine to me.

I was not really convinced their relationship will work out. There was nothing major wrong in their story, it was all minor details which didn’t work for me and in the end I was not sold on their HEA.


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Personal

Things I liked this week

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Ok, I am back with Things I Liked This Week. Today I'm sharing two things which I saw on Twitter and both of which brightened my day. 

The first is the Salmon Cannon which I found totally fascinating, helping fish move over vast expanses of land. I did some reading on it and it turns out it has been around since 2014 but it passed my Twitter TL this week and put a smile on my face. I'm sharing a link to an article in The Guardian showing the viral video and explaining how the cannon works. 


The second thing I liked this week in a trailer of a romcom starring Christina Millian and Adam Demos, to be shown on Netflix on August 29. It was shared by author Nalini Singh and it's a romance set in New Zealand and it involves some home renovation project and more ... It looks really cute and I'd love to see it. 

Falling Inn Love trailer:
https://twitter.com/seewhatsnext/status/1161397035238490112

What did you like this week? Feel free to share the things you liked in the comments :)


Book recs

Some Less Popular Sports Featured in Romance

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This list of compiled of recommendations I received on Twitter during this year #rombklove event. I have grouped together romances featuring sports that are not very popular and some rather popular in real life but conspicuously missing from romance novels.

My personal recommendations for romance romances presenting less popular sports or offering an unusual take on a popular sport, are listed in this earlier post.

Note 1: The inclusion of books/authors on the list here is not an endorsement on my part unless explicitly stated otherwise.

Note 2: The titles link to the Goodreads page for the book. The Amazon links are affiliate.


Water sports 

Diving Deep by KA Mitchell, contemporary m/m romance, diving. Currently not available for purchase

Lake Lovelace series by Vanessa North, competitive wakeboarding. Amazon

Love by the Bay series by Stephanie Kay, rec-league-Coast-Guard rescue swimmers. Amazon

Level Hands / Love Me Like a Rock / Hard Candy by Amy Jo Cousins, m/m romances, rowing. Amazon - Read and Loved

Stroke to His Cox, m/m romance short story by JL Merrow, rowing. Amazon

Swift River
series by Kristina Mathews, whitewater raft guides. Amazon

Wavehouse by Alice Kaltman, YA, surfing. Amazon

Hot Holiday Nights by Jaci Burton, m/f romance, surfing. Amazon

Pacific Blue
series by Lorelie Brown, m/f romance, surfing. Amazon

Sparks Like Ours by Melissa Brayden, f/f romance, surfing. Amazon


Extreme sports

Renegades series by Rebecca Yarros, m/f romances with X Games athletes. Amazon

Lessons in Gravity and Leaving Everest by Megan Westfield, m/f romances, rock climbing. Amazon

Gravity series by Sarina Bowen, skiers/snowboarders. Amazon - Read and enjoyed

Heartstruck by Angeli E. Dumatol. Arnis (Filipino martial art), YA contemporary m/f. Both MC and LI train and compete in the sport. Amazon


Boxing / Wrestling / MMA

A Fighting Chance by Shannon Stacey (novella). Amazon

Knock Out by Michele Mannon, m/m contemporary. Amazon

Dirty Boxing by Harper St George and Tara Waytt, m/f erotic romance, MMA.  Amazon

Showing Him the Ropes by Christa Tomlinson (m/m professional wrestling). Amazon

The Secret Heart by Erin Satie. This historical has a hero that is a bare-knuckle boxer. Amazon (It's free at the time of posting)

Submission Moves by Camilla Sisco is set in the US with an MMA fighter for a hero. Amazon

Below the Belt by Sarah Mayberry, m/f romance, heroine is a boxer. Amazon

Making Him Sweat, Taking Him Down, Driving Her Wild by by Cara McKenna writing as Meg Maguire about boxers. Amazon 

Willing Victim by Cara McKenna, m/f romance, hero is an MMA fighter. Amazon

Bad Neighbor by Molly O'Keefe, m/f romance. Amazon - Read and enjoyed

In Her Corner by Vicki Essex, m/f romance with MMA fighter heroine and her coach is the hero. Amazon

Memphis by Ginger Scott's is about a boxer who trains at the heroine's dad's gym. Amazon

Champion’s Heart by Piper Huguley is a Great Depression Era historical romance with black characters, including a boxer hero. Amazon

Let It Shine by Alyssa Cole, m/f historical set in 1960s, hero is a boxer. Amazon - ($0.99 at the time of posting)


Field and Track

Love on the Run by Zuri Day, female track and field Olympic & collegiate athlete and  male sports management agent. Amazon

Winning Ruby Heart by Jennifer Lohmann. Heroine is a disgraced Olympic athlete who takes up running ultra marathons. Amazon

Love at First Run by Angel C. Aquino, m/f romance, #romanceclass. Amazon

The University of Gatica series by Lexy Timms, track and field heroines. Amazon (Free at the time of posting)

There's Something About Sweetie by Sandyha Menon. Sweetie is a fat girl who runs track, her LI Ashish plays basketball. Amazon

Cars and bikes

Fast Track series by Erin McCarthy, m/f romances, MCs are NASCAR drivers. Amazon

Ride with Me by Ruthie Knox m/f romance about a long distance cyclist. Amazon - currently not available for purchase

Holeshot by M.A. Parker, m/f romance, motocross. Amazon

Cat by Freya North about a sports reporter covering Le Tour de France. Amazon - only used copies

Hard Driving series by Audra North, race car drivers. Amazon


Fencing

Clang by E. Davies, m/m contemporary romance. Amazon

The Master Will Appear by L.A. Witt, m/m romance. Amazon

Introducing Mr. Winterbourn by Joanna Chambers, m/m historical romance, both MCs are fencers. Amazon

Lord Carew's Bride by Mary Balogh, m/f historical romance. Amazon - only used copies available

Heart Duel by Robin D. Owens, m/f paranormal romance. Amazon

A Rational Arrangement by L. Rowyn, fantasy polyamory mmf romance. Amazon



Tennis

Game of Love by Ara Gregorian, m/f romance. Amazon

After Wimbledon by Jennifer Gilby Roberts, m/f romance . Amazon

Courting Carlyn by Melissa Chambers, m/f romance. Amazon


Miscellaneous

Once Upon a Player by Agay Llanera, m/f romance, college volleyball. Amazon

Playing with Seduction by Reese Ryan, heroine is a volleyball player. Amazon

The Cowboy Meets His Match by Sarah Mayberry, which features a female saddle bronc rider.  Amazon

Act Your Age by Eve Dangerfied. The heroine’s on a roller derby team. Amazon

Pride, Prejudice, and Curling Rocks by Andrea Brokaw, YA retelling of Pride and Prejudice, curling. Amazon

Settle the Score / Hustle Play by Tara Frejas is a duology of two short stories featuring a female basketball player & a male cheer squad member. Amazon

Settling the Score by R.S. Gray, m/f romance, heroine is a football player, hero is a swimmer adn they meet at the summer Olympics. Amazon

Romancing the Kicker by Catherine Lane, f/f romance about the first female kicker in NFL. Amazon




Ainslie Paton

Review: The Mysterious Stranger by Ainslie Paton

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Title: The Mysterious Stranger
Author: Ainslie Paton
Genre: Contemporary romance, Doomsday cult, Con artists
Release Date: 27 Aug 2019

Author's links:

My rating: 5 Stars

Blurb

For Rory Archer, going deep under cover with her best friend Zeke Sherwood to bust a doomsday cult was a way of making up for her unprofessional behavior after a relationship breakup with her boss, Zeke's older brother.

All she had to do was act her part, find the evidence they needed to tear down the cult and help the people who'd been gaslit into joining to start new lives.

It was a far cry from the usual work she did, conning arrogant mega-rich men out of ill-gotten money to spend on deserving causes. And with Zeke by her side, it would be a blast.

For Zeke Sherwood, busting the cult was the easy part, even if it meant no way to feed his addiction to Frappuccinos, but surviving months, partnering the woman he'd been in love with forever would be the toughest job he'd ever signed on for. He and Rory had never been anything more than sidekicks and Zeke had given up thinking they ever would be.

But inside the cult, the truth is stranger than fiction, drawing them closer until uncertainty strips away old patterns of behavior and longing and lust bloom, bringing with them the danger of discovery and the fear that none of the new love they feel for each other is real.


Review 

This is the final book in a trilogy about a family (actually, there are more than one family involved) of con artists. I loved the previous two books but this one is by far the best for me. It blew my mind,  it's so unlike any romance I have read before.

There is an intense suspense plot, the hero and heroine go undercover into a doomsday cult in order to dismantle it. We get to see in detail the brutal abuse both psychological and physical the leader used to try to break them (and everyone else in that cult) - him through heavy labour and physical discomfort, her - through singling her out and ostracizing her. The misogyny, the manipulation and gaslighting in the cult was difficult to read at times. It was challenged by the hero and the heroine at every step, still it hit me right in the heart pretty strongly. Seeing how Zeke and Rory fought and resisted the manipulations of the cult was fascinating. I loved the strength both of them showed. And it brought them together, made them admit their attraction and ultimately act on it.

I loved the complexity and layers of the romantic relationship. Zeke's been in love with Rory forever, but she has always seen him as her best friend though she was vaguely aware of his feelings for her and stubbornly ignored them.

They way they cared for each other is what completely undid me - not the lust and physical attraction (we never get a detail physical description of them, other than both being fit and active in sports) but the care, the desire to make the other feel safe and comfortable, the constant worry of how the other one is doing when they were separated.

Zeke is a wonderful character, a master con artist who has a soft side and I loved that the author showed it to us. He needed his frappucinos and a comfy bed and was not ashamed to admit it. I liked Rory a lot too. On top of everything she is a romance reader and it showed in little details throughout the whole story.

They both were certain of their feeling but had doubts about the feelings of the other. They got together while isolated from the outside world and put under enormous pressure and this affected the very foundation of their relationship. There is a lot of exploration of self-doubt and confidence and sabotaging oneself because things seem to good to be true.

The references to Nalini Singh’s PNR series totally killed me, I didn’t catch the first one but I was right there for the next one and recognizing them made me giddy, they fitted so well into the story.

I loved some of the secondary characters as well. I read Candance as on the ace spectrum and I was scared she will be forced into a relationship/sex. The way Rory and Zeke treated her, it melted my heart.

The story also gives a poignant commentary on women’s rights and bodily autonomy, without sounding preachy. 

There was a major plot twist towards the end re the romantic relationship, I didn't expect it but it made sense seeing both Zeke and Rory voice their fears and hopes and dreams. The fine line between wishful thinking and bad timing, learning to trust yourself and the person you love/who loves you.

Overall, it's a remarkable romance and I highly recommend it.

CWs: attempted murder with drugs, physical violence, misogyny, abuse, gaslighting, manipulation

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon


#NotRWA19

#NotRWA19 Recap

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Over the past week I got together with some friends we organised #NotRWA19, a virtual conference on Twitter for the romance fans who couldn’t attend the RWA conference held in New York at the same time. 

It was a bit spur-of-the-moment decision on my part but with the support of the online romance community we managed to organise a 5-day event which I hope was fun and beneficial for everyone. We had a mix of romance readers, bloggers and authors participating with short/longer presentation of various topics.

In this post I have compiled the links to all the presentations made during #NotRWA19 for easy access. I will put it in my pinned tweet on Twitter for those who follow me there. 


Day 1


Ellie Reads - Tips on Book Blogging and Reviewing

https://twitter.com/e_savova/status/1154489681788071937


Nicola Davidson - Pleasure Clubs in Victorian Englan
d

https://twitter.com/NicolaMDavidson/status/1154506295422009344


B.andherbooks - Most Anticipated Releases of Fall/Winter 2020

https://twitter.com/bandherbooks/status/1154550577348694016



Day 2

Ekaterine Xia - SFFR and World Building as Diaspora


https://twitter.com/KatjeXia/status/1154711744238931968


Ami - mini thread on HEA without Children


https://twitter.com/amiesavitri/status/1154755955822739456


Dani Collins - How to Build Your Newsletter

https://twitter.com/DaniCollinsBook/status/1154783130034720768


Jennifer Carole Lewis - Body Language and Spotting Deception

https://twitter.com/jclewisupdate/status/1154831798758776834



Day 3

Mina V. Esguerra - Romanceclass - how it came to be and how it supports authors

https://twitter.com/minavesguerra/status/1155070391515172864


Chachic - Tips for Bookstragramming

https://twitter.com/chachic_/status/1155085516355731456


Charlotte - Depictions of Wealth and Critique of Capitalism in Contemporary Romance


https://twitter.com/romansdegare/status/1155131381300826112



Day 4

Sandra Schwab - Victorians Like You and Me


https://twitter.com/ScribblingSandy/status/1155472765505474560

Fiona West - On Writing Cross-Culturally

https://twitter.com/FionaWestAuthor/status/1155568611567788034


Alex - Trans Romance

https://twitter.com/alextweetsbooks/status/1155515356481576960



Day 5

Agata Weronika - on the Healing Power of Romance Novels

https://twitter.com/Aqueda_Veronica/status/1155871158639714306


Rose Backlin - the Joys and Challenges of Owning a Romance Bookstore

https://twitter.com/angelroseback/status/1155847664518541312


Helen Kord - on Making GReat Rec Lists


https://twitter.com/mirabel_chan/status/1155828419273342976

Alisha Rai

Review: The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai

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Title: The Right Swipe (Modern Love #1)
Author: Alisha Rai
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance, Sports, Online dating  
Release Date: 6 Aug 2019 

Author links: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads

My Rating: 3 Stars


Blurb 

Alisha Rai returns with the first book in her sizzling new Modern Love series, in which two rival dating app creators find themselves at odds in the boardroom but in sync in the bedroom.

Rhiannon Hunter may have revolutionized romance in the digital world, but in real life she only swipes right on her career—and the occasional hookup. The cynical dating app creator controls her love life with a few key rules: 

- Nude pics are by invitation only 

- If someone stands you up, block them with extreme prejudice 

- Protect your heart 

Only there aren't any rules to govern her attraction to her newest match, former pro-football player Samson Lima. The sexy and seemingly sweet hunk woos her one magical night... and disappears. 

Rhi thought she'd buried her hurt over Samson ghosting her, until he suddenly surfaces months later, still big, still beautiful—and in league with a business rival. He says he won't fumble their second chance, but she's wary. A temporary physical partnership is one thing, but a merger of hearts? Surely that’s too high a risk…

Review 

I had such high expectations about this book and while I enjoyed it, I'd say they were only partially met.

I appreciate the different take on sports romance - a retired football player and the whole CTE thing and how it affected his own family and his sports career. I'd love to see more of that side of professional sports reflected in romance.

The heroine runs an online dating app and the hero is temporarily working for her rival (the company she wants to buy). The insight we get into online dating was interesting but also a bit too US-centric for me. I understand the message behind the discussions of "ghosting" and "dick pics" but it came off as distant and preachy at times.

I liked the hero - patient, caring, respectful, never pushy. The heroine was pretty jaded, disappointed by men and unwilling to trust (again). While the story gives convincing reasons for her stance but then I couldn't see why she held on the her distrust of Samson for long. It all seemed excessive to me. Her refusal to hear him out, to believe even for a bit in his innocence, it didn't sit well with me. I am all for being independent and making your own decisions but she was unfair towards Samson one too many times in my opinion. I was annoyed by how stubborn and entrenched in her views the heroine was. She was meant to be strong, with a take-charge attitude and in control of her professional and personal life but she to me she read more like stuck in the past, refusing to deal with the trauma she suffered, acting judgmental towards Samson.

It an interesting read, with some interesting takes on sport and family relationships. smashing the stereotypes of women being weak and fragile and men, especially ones who are big, strong professional athletes, being leader types in life. Yet, I was not fully sold on the romance and didn't understand the heroine very well. 

CW: abuse in the past, head injuries/CTE, death of a close relative, blackmail, sexual abuse, workplace harassment

Add on Goodreads / Buy on Amazon

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