Fantasy

Review: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

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Title: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter
Author: Alexis Hall
Genre/Themes: Queer SFF take on Sherlock Holmes
Release Date: 18 June 2019

Author links: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads

My Rating: 5 Stars


Blurb 

In this charming, witty, and weird fantasy novel, Alexis Hall pays homage to Sherlock Holmes with a new twist on those renowned characters. 

Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms. Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.

When Ms. Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham finds himself drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark. 

But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Ms. Haas' stock-in-trade.

Review 

I have read by Alexis Hall before which is nearly everything he has published. I was really excited for his latest release even though it's not romance. I rarely step out of my comfort genre but I'm always ready to do it with my faviourite authors. 

This queer SFF take on Sherlock Holmes was just brilliant. It was such a glorious adventure story with some dark elements, wildly imaginative and the beautiful, moving writing I have come to expect from the author.

I won’t go into details of the plot, suffice it to say it’s a Sherlock Holmes type of investigation led by the sorceress Shaharazad Hass and her reluctant assistant John Wyndham. They go on solving the mystery in an exquisitely built fantasy world.

It’s a queer story with a pansexual heroine and a gay trans hero featuring a side f/f romance. There is some flirting and romance vibes the focus of the story is the friendship between Shaharazad and John, built of mutual respect and caring for the other. Shaharazad is real and honest, with a bunch of character flaws, unapologetic, confident and self-indulgent. She doesn’t grow or change, she is what she is and is comfortable in her skin, owning her good and bad sides.

We get the story from John’s POV and I loved how consistently puritanical it was, I loved the formality of his POV, his rigidity and strong sense of right and wrong coming through all the text. john and Shaharazad were opposites in almost all aspects and it was pure joy seeing them work together, starting from being reluctant roommates, becoming partners-in-crime and building a tentative friendship that becomes something really important for both of them.

I liked the adventure and fantasy elements a lot – they were engaging and in some ways too real in their reflection of the cruelties of the present days. The chapters in Carcosa were really hard to read for me as they were a poignant presentation of what a totalitarian regime looks like.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot. It's a delightful, whimsical SFF multi-layered story. The meta commentary on writing and storytelling brought me pure joy. The book made me think and feel and laugh and cringe in horror and left a lasting impression in my mind. 

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Contemporary Romance

Review: Trashed by Mia Hopkins

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Title: Trashed (Eastside Brewery #2)
Author: Mia Hopkins 
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance, Gangsters 
Release Date: 16 July 2019

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

My rating: 4 Stars

Blurb


He burns for her. Lucky for him, she likes to play with fire. . .

My name is Eddie Rosas, but everyone calls me Trouble. Since I got out of prison six months ago, I’ve had one goal: find my father, whatever the cost. My older brother says I need to move on. He also wants me to leave our gang, East Side Hollenbeck, and go straight, but I can’t—not until I uncover the truth about our family and its missing piece.


One problem? I’m distracted. My distraction’s name is Carmen Centeno. Smart, passionate, and tough as hell, Carmen is a woman from the neighborhood who’s built her career as one of the city’s top chefs. She’s a master of creating pleasure both in and out of bed. But when our connection deepens, how can I show her I’m not the trash everyone says I am?

The pressure’s rising. Carmen deserves a man she can depend on. And when the ghosts of my past rise up, I’ll have to outsmart them—or lose my shot at a future with the only woman who believes in me.


Review 

I loved the first book in the series, Trashed and made the mistake of reading the first chapter of this one at the end of it and have been waiting for Eddie's story for over a year. I was so excited for it tat I read it as soon as I got the ARC, a couple of months before the actual release which is something I usually avoid doing. 

This story was both everything I was hoping for it to be and also not quite what I expected. It's intense, powerful, very moving with strong emphasis on family besides the romance itself. 

I knew the heroine is a chef and kind of expected she will be a chef throughout the story while he struggled to find his place after prison/gang life. As it happens this was not the central conflict but still liked the way the story progressed. 


What I love the most about this series is the sense of realness they give me. There is no glorification of gang life and the easy money it can bring but there is also of Eddie and his brother for the choices they had to make. We see Eddie trying to leave the gangster life and find a new direction for himeself but no easy solutions for someone with no education and a prison record. There is also the very personal aspect of his family's past and present in all  its complexity - the obligation, the sense of loyalty and guilt, mixed with love and hope. 

Like Thirsty, Trash is told in first person present tense, only from Eddie's POV. It worked well for presenting his inner turmoil which was the focus of the story in my opinion, but I missed seeing Carmen, outside of his version of her. We get bits about her own choices in life, her family situation is was not perfect but we don't see much of how she felt about Eddie and most importantly why she got the love him. 

Eddie is lost and confused and struggling for most of the story but Carmen sees the good in him and appreciate that her support for him never wavers, her belief in him is strong but she also doesn't hesitate to call him out when he acts stupid/overbearing.

I wanted more of their connection, not just the physical stuff, they kind of used the intense chemistry between them as a substitute for talking about their issues.

I liked the epilogue - no magic solution, just gradual progress, hopeful, happy

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#romanceclass

Review: The Queen's Game and Stealing Luna by Carla de Guzman

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Title: The Queen's Game
Author: Carla de Guzman
Genre/Themes: Contemporary royal romance
Release Date: 1 August 2017

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

My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb 

There are only two reasons why Nina would come back home to Cincamarre--one, if Auntie Delia promises to stop butting into her business, two, if her father died and she was made to ascend the throne to be queen. 

Unfortunately for her, it was the second thing that brought her home. 

As a princess who's sunk a yacht and been caught kissing popstars, it's easy for her aunt, the regent, to think she's ill prepared for the throne. But Nina doesn't think that having to fake date Felipe, the handsome, squeaky clean Prince of Concordia was the best solution for that. 

Nina's ready to learn the ropes of her new role and make it hers, and reconnecting with Felipe only makes her want to be a better queen. But is the monarchy ready for Queen Nina?

Review 

This is a duology of fictional royal romances but can work as standalones. I loved the first book and had some issues with the second one.

The Queen's Game is just wonderful - a spoiled heiress who has become a world famous celebrity is on her path to take the throne without losing herself. Childhood friends to lovers, great hero - supporting and caring and encouraging, giving the heroine the freedom and the back-up/sense of security she needs. Things start with a fake relationships which quickly becomes real. He is a prince himself but was never intimated by her position, I loved how much he respected her and how proud he was of her achievement. 

The plot involved some court intrigue and backstabbling and was full of details of the everyday life/economy of the imaginary kingdom all of which made the story very relatable and real.

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Title: The Queen's Game
Author: Carla de Guzman
Genre/Themes: Contemporary royal romance
Release Date: 26 April 2019

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Instagram Goodreads

My rating: 3 Stars


Blurb

Cora Justa Dumagat has had enough. 

She is tired of watching the corrupt, fat cats of the council override the monarchy and risk the people’s lives in exchange for a payday. Despite advice from her Queen, Cora has decided to take matters into her own hands and hit the Joaquins where it hurts—to steal their precious Juan Luna painting right from under their noses in Barcelona. 

The job shouldn’t be too difficult. If only Luis Ang, her ex-boyfriend, wasn't hired to be her bodyguard. 

Luis knows that Cora is up to something, and will stop at nothing to make sure she’s safe, even at the cost of Cora’s plans. 

As Luis and Cora become more and more deeply entangled into each other, the more dangerous the situation becomes. Will Cora have her revenge? Or will stealing Luna be the last thing she ever does?

Review 

Stealing Luna is a second chance romance between an art thief the her best friend/crush from college who is hired as her bodyguard. There is a lot I enjoyed in this story - evocative writng, strong sense of place - the imaginably kingdom of Cincamarre and then Barcelona, Spain. The glimpses we get into the whole con of stealing a famous painting (a real one!) and replacing it with the perfect forged one, it was fascinating to see it on the page. There is a lovely secondary f/f romance which I greatly enjoyed. 

I liked how the story progressed, him making amends for rejecting her years ago, her trying to trust him again. The romance was swoon worthy but I had an issue with some of the behaviour of the heroine that I just couldn't accept. I feel she violated his privacy and betrayed his trust and they never properly addressed this. I felt her apology was too weak and she didn't try hard enough to make amends for her behaviour. I don't want to sound as hating on a difficult heroine, I liked a lot about her and could see she acted the way she did (she was prickly and angry but she needed to protect herself and she had her reasons to he guarded). Still, I feel the hero deserved more honesty from her. 

Overall, it's a lovely story and I loved a lot about it and despite my issues with it, I still recommend the whole series as a fun, mostly light-hearted contemporary royal romance. 

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F/F romance

Review: Proper English by KJ Charles

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Title: Proper English
Author: KJ Charles
Genre/Themes: Historical, f/f romance, murder mystery
Release Date: 8 May 2019

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

My rating: 4.5 Stars


Blurb

A shooting party at the Earl of Witton’s remote country house is a high treat for champion shot Patricia Merton—until unexpected guests turn the social atmosphere dangerously sour.

That’s not Pat’s biggest problem. She’s visiting her old friend, the Earl’s heir Jimmy Yoxall—but she wants to spend a lot more time with Jimmy’s fiancĂ©e. The irrepressible Miss Fenella Carruth, with her laughing eyes and lush curves, is the most glorious woman Pat’s ever met, and it quickly becomes impossible to remember why she needs to stay at arm’s length.

But while the women’s attraction grows, the tensions at Rodington Court get worse. Affairs, secrets, betrayals, and blackmail come to light. And when a body is discovered with a knife between the shoulderblades, it’s going to take Pat and Fen’s combined talents to prevent the murderer destroying all their lives.

Review 

This is a f/f country house murder mystery romance which I greatly enjoyed. It's light-hearted and fun, as much as a romance developing at the background of a murder investigation can be. It's an opposites attract kind of romance and it worked brilliantly for me.

This story works as a prequel to Think of England where we see Pat and Fen as an already established couple. I haven't read the other book yet but this didn't affect my enjoyment of Proper English in the slightest.

As usual, I found KJ Charles' writing engaging and I was deeply invested in the plot even more the murder investigation which only happened in the second half of the book. I liked both heroines who were complete opposites in many ways but who also had more things in common than one could imagine. Their romance was tender and sweet, with little angst and lots of care and understanding.
Both are strong, smart heroines and while Pat is very open about who she is, Fen is hiding her true self behind a bubbly, light-headed personality.

I liked seeing the complexity of family and other relationships and in particular appreciate the closeness between Pat and her brother. The support and care for each other without being over affectionate and while also respecting the private space of the other, giving each other room to breathe and be themselves. The pride he took in her shooting accomplishments, her concern about his well-being and her fear of losing him, all of this was deeply moving for me to read.

I notice this as a trait of KJ Charles' books, her villains seem too villainous to be real. My knowledge of history is not that detailed for me to say if people like  really existed but within the story their villainy seemed over-the-top. I had similar feelings about the villains in Any Old Diamonds, so it could be a me thing though, so don't hold it much against the book.

Overall, Proper English is a short, delightful read, marked by great attention to historical detail, interesting plot and a tender f/f romance. I'm looking forward to more stories in this world, for one Think of England is waiting for me on my Kindle and I also very much want to read the story about Pat's brother which I hope we will get at some point.

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Contemporary Romance

Review: Teach Me

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Title: Teach Me 
(There is Something About Marysburg #1)
Author: Olivia Dade
Genre / Themes: Contemporary romance, teachers
Release date: 30 May 2019

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads
My rating: 5 Stars

Blurb

Their lesson plans didn't include love. But that's about to change...

When Martin Krause arrives at Rose Owens's high school, she's determined to remain chilly with her new colleague. Unfriendly? Maybe. Understandable? Yes, since a loathsome administrator gave Rose's beloved world history classes to Martin, knowing it would hurt her.

But keeping her distance from a man as warm and kind as Martin will prove challenging, even for a stubborn, guarded ice queen. Especially when she begins to see him for what he truly is: a man who's never been taught his own value. Martin could use a good teacher--and luckily, Rose is the best.

Rose has her own lessons--about trust, about vulnerability, about her past--to learn. And over the course of a single school year, the two of them will find out just how hot it can get when an ice queen melts.

Review

This a warm hug of a book and I couldn't be happier I got a chance to read an ARC of it. Such a lovely, heart-warming, life-affirming, joy-bringing book!

I loved both MCs, each not being the typical romance MC - she is fat but there is nothing soft about her, she is confident and fierce, has a killer fashion style and np hang-ups about her body. I adore Rose and want to be her when I grow up.

Martin is softest cinnamon roll hero, unassuming and shy, quiet, carrying a lot of baggage from the past. I loved how caring he was with is daughter, with his students with heroine. Kindness means so much and at the same time is so underrated in real life and in romance.

They are both teachers and liked how much their professional life was part of the story, their dedication to their students was a joy to read. Often the professions of the MCs in romance are barely noticeable but here they had a central place in the story because they had a central place in the character's lives.

I appreciate how their romance progressed, the character development worked perfectly for me, both Rose and Martin are hesitant to start a relationship, they have their scars and we seem them getting closer with time, opening up to each other, putting an effort into being together and making it work. I liked how he stood his ground without being aggressive or pressuring her. Her big gesture was so over-the-top but also the sweetest possible apology and it was so fitting to the story and worked so well and I loved it so much. 

The story also has incidental queer representation which I liked, together with complicated family dynamics (exes, Martin's daughter. Rose's ex-inlaws, they were all very interesting characters and had an important role in the story).

Highly recommended read!

CW for abuse in the family (in the past)

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#romanceclass

#rombklove Day 13: Unusual Sports Romances

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Unusual Sports Romances


When Ana Coqui invited me to join #rombklove 2019 I agreed with no hesitation. This online event has brought me so much joy over the past few years and has put so many books on my radar and I am excited to contribute to it.

It took me a while to come up with a topic though – I already did Beta Heroes, and Families last year. I decided to go with sports romances this year because I want to highlight romances that feature rare/not very popular sports on the one hand but also on the other, romances which deal with widely popular sports (hockey,football, etc) but in a new/unusual light.

I will start with the second group – romances featuring popular sports but focusing on other things besides the billionaire/celebrity aspects of the sport.

One such series is the Atlanta Skyline series of football romances by Rebecca Crowley. While book 1, Crossing Hearts, is an inclusive romance with Latino MCs, it’s in many ways a typical sports romance.

The next two novels and a novella take a somewhat different direction – there is the fame and fortune (not so much in the novella) but the focus is on other things – performing under pressure, making plans for life after football, we have characters moving on with their lives after professional sports.

Book 2, Defending Hearts, explores the darker aspects of fame - the hero is a Muslim player who had become a victim of a hate-crime that throws his carefully planned life off balance.

The heroine in book 3, Saving Hearts, is a former professional female footballer who stayed in the sport as an administrator. Her character highlights a whole other set of issues – female football getting less recognition and respectively funding/popularity. The hero is a goal-keeper on the bring of retirement planning his future away from the sport.

Still with the theme of football romances, I want to mention the Glasgow Lads series by Avery Cockburn. These m/m romances features MCs playing a gay Scottish football club. The books explore different issues from politics to the lives of the aristocracy in the present-day, overall I highly recommend them.

Another popular sports that features prominently in romance is hockey and a favourite of mine in this group is Him and its sequel, Us by Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen. Richly drawn stories with one gay MC and his best friend discovering he is bi. What I particularly like about this series is how their sports careers developed. Jamie who is a goal keeper in his college team, decides not to pursue a career in professional hockey but to take up coaching children instead. He still got to be involved in the sport he loves but made a choice that worked best for him regardless how it looked in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Another part hockey, part ice skating romance I want to highlight is Kiss and Cry by Mina V. Esguerra. The thing about this romance that neither of these sports is very popular in the Philippines. Neither of the MCs got the fame and fortune professional sports players in other parts of the world might get playing these sports. Yet, they were happy with what they did and were absolutely dedicated to their sports respectively.

Moving on to less popular sports, I want to mention a couple of romances. First one is Love on the Tracks by Tamsen Parker where a boyband frontman fall for a professional luger participating in the fictional equivalent of the Olympics. We get to see Rowan's dedication to her sport and how much she loves competing in it but also we get Zane who is utterly in awe of her physical strength and is proud of her success.

Still in the world of college hockey,  one of my favourite NA romance is The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen. Both the heroine and hero are hockey fans and players but she is currently in a wheelchair after an incident on the ice and he has a broken leg. I liked how the story showed two sports people suffering through injury, in her case a permanent disability. And she stayed active, participated in some kind of water polo.

Just one more hockey romance, Hard Knocks by Ruby Lang. Enemies to lovers, heroine is a neurologist with family issues, hero is a hockey player, playing a mediocre team, tired of the game, trying to find his place outside hockey.

I’m always on the look out for historical romances with sports elements. There is a recent debut, Gilded Age historical, Anyone but the Earl by Irene Davis. Hero is a friend of the heroine;s brother and both a members of rowing club. I liked how this was presented in the story but it was just a hobby for them and I am looking for historicals where the MCs take up sports professionally.

A couple of sports romances on my TBR list:

Throwing Stones by Avery Cockburn which is a spin-off of her Glasgow Lads series and features..., wait for it, ... Curling :) I'm looking forward to reading not least of all because it features such an unusual sport.

Love in Straight Sets by Rebecca Crowley - m/f tennis romance. I quite like the writing of Rebecca Crowley and I hope this one will work for me too. Also female sports players are not that common as heroines in romance, so I'm looking forward to this one.

After the Gold by Racheline Maltese and Erin McRae - a figure skating m/f romance with a bi heroine with anxiety. This story seems to tick all the boxes of what I like to read in romance and I'm excited to try it soon. 

To get the discussion going, I have prepared some questions for you:

1. What do you like the most in sports romance?

2. What sports would like to see featured in romance more?

3. Which of your favourite sports romances would you describe as unusual?

Historical Romance

Review: Anyone but the Earl by Irene Davis

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Title: Anyone But the Earl
Author: Irene Davis
Genre / Themes: Gilded Age historical, Rowing, Virgin heroine
Release date: 16 April 2019

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads
My rating: 3 Stars


Blurb

Octavia Sewell is on track to be the next New York heiress to marry into the impoverished British aristocracy. There’s just one problem: the Earl of Brackley is a detestable bore. Fortunately, she has a plan that will scuttle her marriage prospects once and for all, leaving her free to follow her own interests. All she needs is to convince one of her brother’s friends to go along, and she knows just which one she wants…

Set in the Gilded Age of 1896 New York, Anyone But the Earl includes…
- a scandalous text describing the reproductive process,
- a best friend to help a girl out of the trouble she’s gotten herself into,
- midnight escapades,
- meetings under assumed names,
- Victorian flower language, and
- insurance fraud 

Review 

This is a Gilded Age historical, debut by Irene Davis. It was nice overall but not outstanding. 

It started rather slow with too much descriptions and setting the stage and no real action. I liked the heroine though. She is fierce and striving after independence, desperate to escape the arranged marriage her parents (her mother, mostly) tries to force her into. We see her trying to break from tradition, led by curiosity towards life, a desire for something different than just being someone’s wife. 

Enter the hero, a friend of her brother’s from the rowing club – good looking, instant chemistry. A wealthy young businessman, but he is still very traditional re marriage and women’s place in society. I liked seeing him change and acknowledge the heroine's wishes for her/their future. 

I liked that she didn’t have everything figured out from the start, she fumbled her way towards independence and living the life she wanted for herself. There was a gradual realization of her desires, both physical and in general, her dreams of the future. 

The action picked up a lot in the second half and everyone showed their true colours and there were some pleasant surprises there. 

I had minor issues – not a sports romance really, rowing was a hobby for the hero and his friends, I just expected the sports aspect will be more central.

My main complaint has to do with the heroine’s mother and specific incident where I found her alleged behaviour deeply problematic. It was never cleared with the mother whether this is true or no, there is no discussion/apology (assuming it was true). It’s a major thing and I feel it should have been challenged in the text directly.

Overall, this is a solid historical romance debut and despite some flaws here, I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

CW: Attempted assault/rape

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Alyssa Cole

Review: A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole

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Title: A Prince on Paper (Reluctant Royals #3)
Author: Alyssa Cole
Genre / Themes: Royals, Fake engagement, 
Release date: 30 April 2019

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads
My rating: 3.5 Stars



Blurb

The Reluctant Royals series returns with a good girl searching for the life that’s not too big, and not too small, and the bad boy prince who might be just right for her…

Nya Jerami fled Thesolo for the glitz and glamour of NYC but discovered that her Prince Charming only exists in her virtual dating games. When Nya returns home for a royal wedding, she accidentally finds herself up close and personal—in bed—with the real-life celebrity prince who she loves to hate.

For Johan von Braustein, the red-headed step-prince of Liechtienbourg, acting as paparazzi bait is a ruse that protects his brother—the heir to the throne—and his own heart. When a royal referendum threatens his brother’s future, a fake engagement is the perfect way to keep the cameras on him.

Nya and Johan both have good reasons to avoid love, but as desires are laid bare behind palace doors, they must decide if their fake romance will lead to a happily-ever-after.


Review

This is the third and final full-length novel in the series. After enjoying the previous two and getting a tiny glimpse of the MCs in this one, I was really following forward to reading it. It was nice and sweet but not as good I as expected. I liked both Nya and Johan but there was too much forced drama and not enough real conflict for me to like it more

I appreciate Nya's strength and her ability to be hopeful and feel joy despite the brutal manipulation and gaslighting she endured for years from her father. It was hard to read at times but also rewarding to see her strength in a very dire situation. It was not all smooth sailing for her, she felt lost and confused, betrayed and lonely but she forged through and never gave up. This was also true in the way she built the intimacy with Johan, she challenged herself, pushed herself to ask for what she wanted.

Johan was actually the sweetest, most caring and sensitive hero who were supposed to be bad playboy prince.  I liked his true nature which he was careful to hide from everyone but at the same time, we only hear about his shenanigans and publicity stunts but they never quite felt real to me. They only happened in the past and at present in this story we see him only on his best behaviour.

I liked seeing my beloved characters from the previous books and the new side characters we meet her was a pleasure to read too. There is an enby character coming out story which I found tender and deeply moving. 

With all the things I enjoyed in this romance, there were a lot of small details which I found annoying and which kept taking me out of the story. Nya playing that romancing simulation game even after she got into a fake engagement with the Johan and became intimate with him felt like a betrayal. I wasn't too keen of all the forced drama either. 

Overall, I enjoyed the whole series with A Duke by Default about Portia and Tavish being my favourite. If you are looking for inclusive contemporary romance that is both fun and emotional, I heartily recommend this series.

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Charlie Adhara

Review: Thrown to the Wolves by Charlie Adhara

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Title: Thrown to the Wolves (Big Bad Wolf #3)
Author: Charlie Adhara
Genre / Themes: Shifters /Murder mystery
Release date: 01 April 2019

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

Agent Cooper Dayton is going to meet his boyfriend’s werewolf family. Unarmed. On their turf. 

And he’s bringing his cat. 

When Agent Cooper Dayton agreed to attend the funeral for Oliver Park’s grandfather, he didn’t know what he was getting into. Turns out, the deceased was the alpha of the most powerful werewolf pack on the eastern seaboard. And his death is highly suspicious. Regardless, Cooper is determined to love and support Park the way Park has been there for him. 

But Park left him woefully unprepared for the wolf pack politics and etiquette. Rival packs? A seating order at the dinner table? A mysterious figure named the Shepherd? The worst is that Park didn’t tell his family one key thing about Cooper. Cooper feels two steps behind, and reticent Park is no help. 

There are plenty of pack members eager to open up about Park and why Cooper is wrong for him. Their stories make Cooper wonder if he’s holding Park back. But there’s no time to get into it…as lethal tranquilizer darts start to fly, Cooper needs to solve the mystery of the alpha’s death and fight for the man he loves—all before someone else dies.

Review 

This is a great ending of a highly intriguing series. The three books follow the same couple, Agents Dayton and Park and here we finally meet the Parks on their own turf and learn a lot more about the world of the werewolves.

I loved both romantic arc and the further development of Cooper and Park's relationship and the suspense plot which kept me on my toes till the end. I was not very happy with Park keeping so many secrets from Cooper putting in a very difficult, potentially dangerous situation. I wished he trusted his partner and lover sooner but I also understand his reluctance to reveal his past, a past he is deeply ashamed of and regrets. 

We get the see the wolf pack with its complicated dynamics through the eyes of Cooper and just like him, I felt lost initially but I enjoying discovering the next bit and the next and next about Park's family and friends/enemies.

For the the story ends with a solid HEA while also leaving room for more cases for the agents to work on. 

Overall, i enjoyed the whole series and found it very atmospheric and intense, captivating romance with an intriguing suspense plot. I'm here for more stories set in this world if the author chooses to write them. Or for any other stories she might write.

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Contemporary Romance

Review: The Austen Playbook by Lucy Parker

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Title: The Austen Playbook (London Celebrities #4)
Author: Lucy Parker
Genre / Themes: Romance / Theatre actors / British
Release date: 22 April 2019

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads

My rating: 4.5 Stars


Blurb


Freddy Carlton knows she should be focusing on her lines for The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV event where viewers choose the outcome of each scene, but her concentration’s been blown. The palatial estate housing the endeavor is now run by the rude (brilliant) critic who’s consistently slammed her performances of late. James “Griff” Ford-Griffin has a penchant for sarcasm, a majestic nose and all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer.


She can’t take her eyes off him.


Griff can hardly focus with a contagious joy fairy flitting about near him, especially when Freddy looks at him like that. His only concern right now should be on shutting down his younger brother’s well-intentioned (disastrous) schemes—or at the very least on the production (not this one) that might save his family home from the banks.

Instead all he can think of is soft skin and vibrant curls. 

As he’s reluctantly dragged into her quest to rediscover her passion for the stage and Freddy is drawn into his research on a legendary theater star, the adage about appearances being deceiving proves abundantly true. It’s the unlikely start of something enormous…but a single revelation about the past could derail it all.


Review 

This story is such a wonderful addition to the London celebrities series. Fun and entertaining but also exploring the complexity of family relationships, together with a look behind-the-scenes of the theatre/TV world and it's not as glamorous as it appears on the surface.

The romance came second at times but all those other scenes really helped show the true colours of the MCs (and the side characters).

I'm a fan of Lucy Parker's writing and this was no exception - engaging, subtle, sarcastic humour that works so well for me. This whole story was very atmospheric both of the English countryside f the whole mansion-owning family in financial trouble. I also very much liked the parallel love stories from the past so closely interwoven with Freddy and Griff's romance in the present day. .

Grumpy misanthropic heroes are my catnip and it made me happy to see this one paired with a bubbly, light-hearted, fun-loving heroine. I really appreciate her journey to asserting her selfworth and finding value in doing the things she enjoys (comedies and musicals), rather than the things others view as worthy (high-end drama plays). I can't stress enough how important and satisfying it was seeing this, anything that brings you joy is worthy and good.

I also love the element of caring about others that was really prevailing in the story. Griff cared deeply for his family, Charlie did too in his own way. Freddy wanted the freedom from her family's legacy and expectations but she also cared people for her family and didn't want to see them hurt.The villains got their due in the end but it felt well deserve with no malice and spite.

In short, I loved everything in this story - the romance, the mystery, the theatre/celebrity world, the family feuds and secrets and past love affairs. Highly recommended read!

PS: I just have to say how much I  loved the proposal scene, it was ridiculous and over-the-top and didn't go according to plan at all, yet it was perfect for Freddy and Griff.


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Alyssa Cole

Review: An Unconditional Freedom

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Title: An Unconditional Freedom (The Royal League #3)
Date of publication: 26 Feb 2019
Genre: Historical romance, the Civil War 

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads

My rating: 4.5 Stars

Blurb

Daniel Cumberland’s uneventful life as a freed man in Massachusetts ended the night he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. To then have his freedom restored by the very man who stole his beloved’s heart is almost too much to bear. When he’s offered entry into the Loyal League, the covert organization of spies who helped free him, Daniel seizes the opportunity to help take down the Confederacy and vent the rage that consumes him.

When the Union Army occupies Janeta Sanchez’s small Florida town, her family’s goodwill and ties to Cuba fail to protect her father from being unjustly imprisoned for treason. To ensure her father’s release, Janeta is made an offer she can’t refuse: spy for the Confederacy. Driven by a desire for vengeance and the hope of saving her family, she agrees to infiltrate the Loyal League as a double agent.

Daniel is both aggravated and intrigued by the headstrong recruit. For the first time in months, he feels something other than anger, but a partner means being accountable, and Daniel’s secret plan to settle a vendetta and strike a blow for the Union can be entrusted to no one. As Janeta and Daniel track Jefferson Davis on his tour of the South, their dual hidden missions are threatened by the ghosts of their pasts and a growing mutual attraction—that might be their only hope for the future.

Review 

What a fantastic end to an amazing series!

These are such important books, offering a little known and an invaluable perspective on the Civil War in the US. I enjoyed all the books and with An Extraordinary Union my favourite, this comes a close second. It's a powerful character-driven story with a strong suspense elements (the MCs are al spies and agents, after all). 

I won't be giving away any plot details and I can say that it's tied with the previous in the series but works well as standalone. The whole series draws a powerful portrayal of the people involved in the Civil War and this one adds yet another layer to the grand picture.


Daniel was a broken man, set on revenged, disillusioned, hardened, one who fights for his people but ultimately he has lost hope in his country. There is so much hurt and devastation in his life, and blame, all the self-blame for having been naive and hopeful, for being weak and unable to move on. 
He was a free man with big plans for the future and he was kidnapped and enslaved and everything was taken away from him. In a way his story was one long coming back from the dead, learning to trust and to hope and dream again.
 panic attack, suicidal thoughts, anxiety. flashbacks of trauma and torture. 


Janeta was an amazing, so interesting, so unusual. She started as a double agent, determined to spy for the Confederacy. Her father was a white Cuban slave-owner and, her mother was a slave he freed and later married. She through a most difficult and transforming journey in this story. She had to face hard truths about herself and her family that she had been avoiding. She found her people in the face of Daniel and the slave they met on the road. I started disliking her and by the end I was fully on her side. 

The story has a varied cast of great side characters who brought life and richness to the story. Seeing Malcom and Elle (the MCs in book 1) in the end bought things full circle. 

Ultimately, this is a dark but hopeful story. The focus for me was not so much on the HEA but on the MCs making a choice who they want to be in this life, standing up for their to love and happiness and after all, unconditional freedom. 

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Ebook price: $9.99, books 1 and 2 are on sale at the time of posting this review: $2.99 each

Contemporary Romance

Review: The Inside Track by Tamsen Parker

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Title: The Inside Track (License to Love #2)
Author: Tamsen Parker
Genre/Themes: Rockstar romance, Mental illness
Release date: 26 Feb 2019

Author’s links: Website / Facebook / Reader Group / Twitter

My rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb

Love might mean coming as you are, but staying is a different matter.

Nick Fischer is a screw-up; everyone knows it and they’re not afraid to tell him so. The only thing he’s got going for him is that he plays a reliable rhythm guitar for License to Game, and his big fat bulldog, Princess Fiona, is so ugly she’s cute.

Dempsey Lawrence is a former child star turned financial advisor, and while she’s curious about the hot mess of a man who’s her co-panelist for a presentation on financial literacy, she has no intention of pursuing anything with him. Too loud, too crass, too wild, Nick is altogether too much. Plus, he’s famous, and she is so over stardom and everything that comes with it.

Except that when Dempsey gives Nick an inch, he takes a mile, and she finds that she doesn’t mind so much. Until Nick brings the pitfalls of stardom to Dempsey’s doorstep, then all the attraction in the world might not be enough to promise a happily ever after.

Review

This was an engaging romance between a rockstar hero with ADHD and a former child star now financial consultant with agoraphobia.

I mostly enjoyed this romance and found both characters interesting. I liked the hero and the way his ADHD was presented, especially at the beginning. His POV become more challenging to read as the story progressed though I mostly enjoyed it. I wanted some more depth, a bit more seriousness/angst if you like. He was too accepting, too easygoing, to the point that it seem he didn’t care enough. 

The romance had a well done consent, a bit of femdom and was very sex positive (there is a male sex worker as a side character who was an awesome friend in addition).

The heroine had developed agoraphobia after traumatic sexual experiences as a teen. She was in a bad family situation no real support network apart from people who worked for her in one way or another. They have become her family over time and her only close relationships. Building a life that she can manage and feeling more or less happy. He brought new light into her world, stirred things up. But also cause her a lot of stress. His star status, the attention he attracted was really bad for her mental health. I found this aspect of the story the least convincing. She didn’t leave her house but had a celebrity boyfriend who brought his bandmates and friends over (with her consent but it caused her a panic attack), put her live on stage via chat, had a stalker attack him in her house. I feel it was all too much for her to deal with. 

We see them discussing it and trying hard to balance things out but I am not convinced how they would make it work in the long term. It was a matter of compromise and they both seemed committed to it and put a lot of effort and thought into it, but in the end I feel it was all much for her to be able to deal with it.

The second half was a bit messy, too many things going on, some over the top plot elements detracted from my overall enjoyment of the story. I loved how he worked out his grand gestured with the help of his friends and how fitting it was.

Overall it was a nice romance with interesting characters where I wanted some more depth and conflict and a little less drama. I'm not fully sold on their HEA but the HFN was solid in my mind.

CW: panic attacks, stalker, breaking and entering, knife attack

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#romanceclass

Review: Kiss and Cry by Mina V. Esguerra

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Title: Kiss and Cry (Six 32 Central Book 2)
Author: Mina V. Esguerra
Genre/Themes: Second chance romance, sports, Philippines 
Release date: 1 March 2019

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

My rating: 4 Stars

Blurb

Calinda met Ramirez when she was 20 and he was 22. She was the rising star of women's skating, and he was the superstar forward of men's hockey. Her parents and coach were against their relationship, and because Calinda wanted to prove that no hot guy would ever distract her from her dream, she chose skating over him — and also avoided him all together. 

Ten years later, they meet again as gold medalists and prominent sports advocates, still single and undeniably attracted to each other. It's still not a good time for them, because Ramirez is retiring from hockey and moving back to the United States. Calinda doesn't do relationships, really, and proposes they use his final three weeks in Manila to explore what might have been, and do all the things they wish they'd done (there's a list!). Then he can leave for good, and they can both move on with their lives without this one regret.

Review 

This is a nice, easy going, low conflict romance with some angst and lots of realistic talk about sports behind its glamourous facade. I loved that we a different aspect of professional sports, one where it’s like a day job – some fame and popularity on local level, but none of the huge wealth and celebrity. status. Both MCs love their sport despite it not being the most popular in their country and they are trying to a living out of it.

The story also gives us a lot of thoughts on leaving and staying, on living in two countries and not feeling truly at home in either. The story is very atmospheric, set in Manila, we see s much of life there - the food, the local customs and everything. At the same time we get enough glimpse of Ram’s life in the US to see how the immigrant experience shapes who he is.

It's a second chance love story where the MCs are in their 30s and get together in some sort of belated fight for independence, some sort of revenge, of taking back control over her life that was taken from them 10 years ago. In reality though, this is just the continuation of their love story that started all those years and they never stopped wanting to be together. 

It's deeply romantic but both acting very practical on the surface. I loved how neither of them wanted to force the other person to shape their whole life around you. I appreciate the open discussions of consent and the respect the MCs showed each other.

I felt the story lost some momentum around the middle but in the end it all worked well. I absolutely loved how simple and ordinary his grand gesture was, how fitting to both of them. Their love was not an easy solution of a difficult life situation. The practical difficulties of being together were not glossed over but rather discussed between the MCs and a solution was found that worked for both of them.

Light-hearted, yet with some unexpected depth, this is a lovely sports romance and I highly recommend it to everyone. 

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Historical Romance

Review: Any Old Diamonds by KJ Charles

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Title: Any Old Diamonds
Author: KJ Charles
Genre/Themes: Historical, MM romance
Release Date: 30 Jan 2019

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

My rating: 3 Stars

Blurb

Lord Alexander Pyne-ffoulkes is the younger son of the Duke of Ilvar, with a bitter grudge against his wealthy father. The Duke intends to give his Duchess a priceless diamond parure on their wedding anniversary—so Alec hires a pair of jewel thieves to steal it. 

The Duke's remote castle is a difficult target, and Alec needs a way to get the thieves in. Soldier-turned-criminal Jerry Crozier has the answer: he'll pose as a Society gentleman and become Alec's new best friend.

But Jerry is a dangerous man: controlling, remote, and devastating. He effortlessly teases out the lonely young nobleman’s most secret desires, and soon he’s got Alec in his bed—and the palm of his hand.

Or maybe not. Because as the plot thickens, betrayals, secrets, new loves, and old evils come to light. Now the jewel thief and the aristocrat must keep up the pretence, find their way through a maze of privilege and deceit, and confront the truth of what's between them...all without getting caught.

Review 

Any Old Diamond is a historical m/m romance with a twisty plot and a kinky romantic relationship between the MCs that I expected to love but ended having mixed feelings about it. I really struggled with the first part of the story and had to put it a way for a bit before I continued with it. While I liked the second part much better it was not enough to make the book a success for me.

We have a morally dubious jewel thief and an aristocrat who is cut off by his father and ostensibly seeks revenge getting together but I didn't feel the romantic connection between them. Things between them started based on lust and the enjoyment of the kink they shared. But it never felt more than that - Alec seemed grateful that someone appreciated his kink and didn't shame or beat him up for it (unlike previous lovers) and Jerry didn't show much feelings at all in the first half. I didn't feel anything beyond the purely physical connection between them. Jerry had no regrets about who he was and what he did, he was self confident and self assured but didn't strike me as a villain or a sociopath really.

Halfway through the story there is a major plot twist that I appreciate plotwise but it also did'nt feel natural, especially with regard to Alec whose POV we get throughout the story. I understand the suspense and keeping it a secret from everyone, the reader included, but it felt out of character for Alec. For me it seemed that after that twist we had both MCs being completely different from we had come to see from them. I'm all for character development and change but this felt abrupt and too sudden to be convincing.

I had an issue re consent in some of the sex scenes, especially the angry against-the-wall sex towards the end. It read more like an assault than a consensual mutually enjoyable sex. Furthermore, it is the last explicitly described sex scene in the book, what followed was mostly kissing and fade-to-black scenes and that only added to my discomfort about that scene. 

Another scene which I found problematic is where on of the MCs outed the other as gay. It was done in a fit of anger and while I understand why the character acted this way, there was a very lackluster apology for it after that. The reaction of the outed person was also problematic for me since he didn't stand up for himself but rather felt he deserved it because he had lied previously. He took the blame believing his own behaviour had provoked the other person to do act so aggressively (he used the same excuse for making sense of the violent angry sex that followed soon after). 

All this makes we wary of believing in the HEA for these two characters together.

On the plus side, I loved the writing, the plot was full of twists and turns which I enjoyed and the side characters were great (yes, Susan Lazarus, I'm talking about her).

Overall, this was not the book I expected and while I like some bits in it, overall, it didn't work for me. Still, I'm curious about Templeton's story and plan on reading it when it comes out.

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Historical Romance

The Earl I Ruined by Scarlett Pekham

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Title: The Earl I Ruined
(Secret of Charlotte Street #2)
Author: Scarlett Peckham
Date of publication: 11 Dec 2018
Genre: Historical Romance

Author's links:

My rating: 2.5 Stars


Blurb

She’s beautiful, rich, and reckless… 

When Lady Constance Stonewell accidentally ruins the Earl of Apthorp’s entire future with her gossip column, she does what any honorable young lady must: offer her hand in marriage. Or, at the very least, stage a whirlwind fake engagement to repair his reputation. Never mind that it means spending a month with the dullest man in England. Or the fact that he disapproves of everything she holds dear. 

He’s supposedly the most boring politician in the House of Lords... 

Julian Haywood, the Earl of Apthorp, is on the cusp of finally proving himself to be the man he’s always wanted to be when his future is destroyed in a single afternoon. When the woman he’s secretly in love confesses she’s at fault, it isn’t just his life that is shattered: it’s his heart. 

They have a month to clear his name and convince society they are madly in love… 

But when Constance discovers her faux-intended is decidedly more than meets the eye—not to mention adept at shocking forms of wickedness—she finds herself falling for him. 

There’s only one problem: he can’t forgive her for breaking his heart.


Review 

This is the second book in the series but can be read as a standalone. I requested an ARC following the glowing praise for the debut book of Ms Peckham and first in the series, The Duke I Tempted.

I expected a diverse historical with interesting characters, exploring the emotional and physical connection between them but I got a messy, superficial story that left me disappointed.

I know female readers of romance often come as much more unforgiving of the heroine than of the heroes and while I try hard not to be that kind of reader, i really, really disliked the heroine here. My problem is not that she started as spoilt, well-meaning but careless, oblivious to her privilege. She is really young and acted in an attempt to help other women, protecting them from men who could use/abuse them. My problem is that I didn't really see her grow into a better person through the story. I don't feel she became a more sympathetic and understating person. Yes, there is some journey exploring her sexuality and desires which I liked though I think it could have used more depth and detail.

I didn't get a good reading of the hero either. He was presenting as strict and adhering to laws and conventions, while he was completely different on the inside. He acted so to protect himself and those he cared for. Yet, we didn't see much of his real self, moments when he was himself were few and far between and left me wanting more. For most of the story, both MCs kept their pretense even when they were together making the whole story feel more like a comedy comedy of manners of sorts. The plot relied too much of gossip, pretense and disguise. I wanted more honest and open discussions between the MCs, exploring their desires.

I had other issues with the plot as well, it was overcrowded, there was too much going on with side character and their stories, much of it not adding adding significant. I felt there was not enough depth and detail. The hero's past as a dom for hire, his whole secret life in the illegal sex club was vaguely alluded too, we never got to see him (or both of them) there. It was just something in the background while it was central to the character's personality.

In short, the story had the potential to be something new and refreshing but instead it felt messy, superficial and not as good as expected it to be.


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Contemporary Romance

Review: Three Little Words by Jenny Holiday

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Title: Three Little Words 
(Bridesmaids Behaving Badly #3)
Author: Jenny Holiday
Date of publication: 29 Jan 2019
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Author's links:

My rating: 5 Stars


Blurb

Gia Gallo is officially in bridesmaid hell. Stranded in New York with her best friend's wedding dress, Gia has six days to make it to Florida in time for the ceremony. And oh-so-charming best man Bennett Buchanan has taken the last available rental car. Looks like she's in for one long road trip with the sexiest - and most irritating - Southern gentleman she's ever met...

Bennett's pretty sure that if there was ever a woman to break his "no flings" rule, Gia would be it. Sure, she's stubborn. She's also funny, smart, and the attraction between them is getting hotter with every state line they cross. While Bennett doesn't do casual, Gia doesn't do "relationships." But if they break the rules, this unlikely pair might discover that their impromptu road trip could turn out to be the best ride of their lives.

Review 

I absolutely loved this book  - it's fun and happy-making but with serious edges and some darkness to it which make it the perfect kind of contemporary romance for me.

Gia is an awesome heroine, a fashion model at the end of her career - no bitchness, no aloofness but also no fake modesty regarding her looks. I found her stress of having to start something new/unfamiliar, the uncertainty, the sense of lacking (academic smarts, experience outside the world of modelling) very relatable.

She is also not looking for a relationship after being burnt before, one-night stands, or at best, a repeat performance, is her thing. And then she meets Bennett who turns her life absolutely upside down, rather helps her see other possibilities both in her personal and in her professional life.

Gia is battling an eating disorder and she is not quite ready to admit it. And Bennett is a chef, a top chef at that. I loved how this aspect of their relationship was handled, he didn't pressure her, his delicious cooking and his love for her didn't cure her, they helped her admit the problem and start looking for professional help to cope with it.

He is wonderful overall, caring and patient with Gia while dealing with his own demons, and they were some pretty dark demons. She was an unexpected source of solutions for a number of his issues. She literally made him face his past and move on from it.

They started are reluctant strangers, forced by the circumstances on a road trip that lead to unexpected and scary for them both intimacy and openness. 

The story ends with the sweetest, mushiest epilogue - perfect end to the series. We see all the previous couples and glimpses at their lives down the line were heart-warming.

The whole series shows great female (and male!) friendships. I liked how the family relations were presented in the story - re-establishing contact with one's family without forgiving and forgetting, some hurts are too deep to heal. Still, this was a hopeful aspect of the story for me. I also loved all the food, the idea of a community restaurant was new to me and found it really intriguing.

The writing was what I have come to expect from Jenny Holiday, lovely, engaging writing, real, down-to-earth characters, nuance both in the presentation of the good guys and the bad ones.

I highly recommend the whole series! (this book can be read as as standalone but it would be work even better if you have read the previous books)

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