Historical Romance

Review: Slippery Creatures by KJ Charles

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Title: Slippery Creatures (The Will Darling Adventures #1)
Author: KJ Charles
Genre/Themes: Historical, MM romance, Mystery
Release Date: 13 May 2020

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

My rating: 3.5 Stars


Blurb

Will Darling came back from the Great War with a few scars, a lot of medals, and no idea what to do next. Inheriting his uncle’s chaotic second-hand bookshop is a blessing...until strange visitors start making threats. First a criminal gang, then the War Office, both telling Will to give them the information they want, or else.

Will has no idea what that information is, and nobody to turn to, until Kim Secretan—charming, cultured, oddly attractive—steps in to offer help. As Kim and Will try to find answers and outrun trouble, mutual desire grows along with the danger.

And then Will discovers the truth about Kim. His identity, his past, his real intentions. Enraged and betrayed, Will never wants to see him again.

But Will possesses knowledge that could cost thousands of lives. Enemies are closing in on him from all sides—and Kim is the only man who can help.


Review

This is the first book in a new m/m historical romance series set in 1920s London. There is a strong suspense/mystery plot that the MCs are involved in and the next books are expected to follow the same couple on more adventures. 

Overall, I enjoyed the mystery plot and found both Will and Kim to be very intersting characters. I am partial to Will, I think we saw more of him, got to know him better - his past as a soldier, his present as a heir to his uncle's bookshop, left with no real support network other than a woman he recenetly made friends recenlty, his uncertain future. Kim, on the other hand, remained pretty much a mystery, I didn't get his motivation and to be honest, I found some of his actions deeply hurtful to Will. 

There is a strong chemistry between Will and Kim but they also have many issues to deal with in order to become a real couple. I was not fully convinced they would end up together in the long term. Actually, at the end of the book, they are tryng to be friends first, with a possibility for something more. I feel Kim needs to do much more to deserve Will and to earn his trust (again). I hope he can do that in the next books.

The suspense/mystery was engaging and I liked following Will (and in some way, Kim) worked to unravel it. I liked seeeing how the different characters dealt with the new times after WW1, the gradual introduction of new technology into the daily life.

There are two big side characters, both female, Will's best friend Maisie whom I loved and Kim's fiance, Phoebe, whom I had difficult time relating to. it's a fake engagement of sorts, and I appreciate her support for Kim (and his relationship with Will), she seemed superficial to me. 

In short, despite some niggles I have with this book, it's a promising start of a new series with intersting suspense plot and great characters.

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A. K. Larkwood

Review: The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood

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Title: The Unspoken Name
Author: A. K. Larkwood
Genre: Fantasy, f/f romantic elements
Release Date: 11 Feb 2020

Author's links:

My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb

What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard's loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.


Review 

This is a debut diverse fantasy with f/f romantic elements which I mostly enjoyed and had no major issues with it other than the pace being rather slow at the beginning. It's an engaging, complicated story involving death cults and sacrifices, all-powerful gods and magicians. 
The story has a slower start, descriptive, understated, very much reflective of who Csowre was at that time. As the story progresses we see her grow up, completely transform herself and through trial and error become her own person. I loved seeing her complicated relationship with her mentor and saviour and master. Csorwe and her friend/enemy Tal also had a turbulent relationship which brought forth major life-altering decisions for both of them.

Csorwe was given a second chance at life but has actually become a tool for Belthandros Sethennai, with no purpose of her own. And then she had to re-evaluate everything in her life for the second time. She went on to forge a life for herself (and the woman she fell in love with). It's a slow, painful discovery of who you are and what matters for you the most. 

The story was casually queer - m/m and f/f relationships were just part of the world, actually of all the different worlds we get to visit in the story. 

It’s a debut work of this author and I am looking forward to reading more. I feel the story is opened to sequels and I am here for it. 

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Ainslie Paton

Review: One Kiss from the King of Rock

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Title: One Kiss from the King of Rock
Author: Ainslie Paton
Genre: Contemporary romance, Rockstar, Second chance
Release Date: 16 April 2020

Author's links:


My rating: 4.5 Stars


Blurb

Evie Tice won’t kiss her ex, Jay Endicott, ever again. But she wants to. Burns for it. Half the adult population of the world does, because he’s a rock god who can apparently light up the stage. She wouldn’t know. When he quit on her, she made sure to block him from her life and stick to easy breezy hook-ups.

But Jay is back, sexier than ever, with the first leg of his global tour and her brothers’ band opens for him. As their social media manager, Evie can’t avoid Jay, but she can use him, to get off and get even like he once used her.

There’s one little issue. No kissing, because if Evie kisses Jay, she’s going to fall in love with him all over again. 


Review

I loved the first book in the series and read this one right after it, well ahead of its release. I enjoyed this one very much as well though it has a different vibe than the first. It's an over-the-top angsty second-chance rockstar romance - tropey and sexy and very moving.

Evie and Jay reconnect 10 years after a nasty breakup of what they both saw as their once in a lifetime , first and last love. They start with lots of anger, a deep grudge that is eating them from the inside. But the chemistry is there leading them making a sex pact before risking it all to be honest with each other. 

We see some bits of the rockstar world, though the main focus was on the internal conflict. There was a lot about how they have changed, who they are now and what they want. 

I was happy to see both of them as successful, happy with what they do. She has her own business, she is good at what she does and is in no way dependent o him. His success is also well deserved and this put them on an equal footing which I very much liked. 

They managed to overcome the hurt from the past (outside forces were at play back then and now they they were grown up to forgive and move on). His betrayal at present felt huge though, monumental because it was a sign he didn't know her now and that was difficult to accept/overcome. But it also prompted her to be honest with herself and let the music back in her life, this time on her own terms.

I am not happy with the reconciliation with her father and what he did, they all forgave him all too easily in my opinion, for something that affected his whole family and and in a way changed the course of their lives.

It's an intense, passionate romance that I can highly recommend. 

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Dal MacLean

Review: Blue on Blue by Dal Maclean

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Title: Blue on Blue
Author: Dal Maclean
Genre: M/M romance, crime thriller
Release Date: 24 March 2020

Author's links:

My rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb 

After three years working as a private investigator, newly reinstated Detective Inspector Will Foster still holds himself responsible for the death of an officer under his command. But he’s returned to the Met bent on redeeming himself and that means bringing down gangland boss Joey Clarkson.

Will’s prepared to put in long hours and make sacrifices for his work, even if it comes at a cost to his nascent romance with international model, Tom Gray. After all, Tom has a history of wandering but crime is a constant in London. And Will has committed himself to the Met.

But when a murder in a Soho walkup leads Will into the world of corruption, he finds himself forced to investigate his own friends and colleagues. Now the place he turned for redemption seems to be built upon lies and betrayal. And someone is more than willing to resort to murder to keep it that way.

Review

I was excited to read this book after I enjoyed the previous two in the series (all of the books work as standalones). I liked a lot of things in this one but also bothered by some, most notably misogyny and some bi-phobia that never got challenged on the page. I liked the murder mystery plot and the suspense, had some issues with the romance and the general portrayal of women.

The author has created a complex world of villains, both within the police  and in the criminal world. I am ok with having women as the villains, but when it's only them, things don't feel right to me. This was my feeling for most of the first half of the book but gradually we got to see that men can be monsters too and some women acted as good people, so I'd say some balance was achieved.

What still bothered me and I would describe it as casual misogyny is how random women (Tom’s agent, Pez’ business partner/colleague were all presented in a negative light). I found it completely unnecessary for the plot and would have enjoyed the story much more without it. 

As for the romance, Will and Tom’s relationship was pretty volatile, lots of insecurity on both sides which I could understand based on who they were and their lives so far. It's a kind of second-chance romance (they are making a new start after ending things with Tom cheating on Will). I felt that we didn't get to see them together enough, they were both too busy and not talking things through and letting their own insecurities undermine their relationship. Tom’s biphobia (Will is bi, his previous relationship with a woman was pretty important to the story) went unchallenged and I didn’t like that.

Also, there were examples of fatphobia which was totally redundant. June’s fate was bad as it was, there was no need for casually judging her for putting on weight. It was nothing aggressive, rather a careless comment manifesting a deeply ingrained understanding of being fat as something bad. I find this kind of fatphobia the most hurtful.

On the positive side, I loved the writing, loved the politics within the police, the whole element of keeping secrets and at the same doubting everyone - I found it engaging, I was never sure who the murderer was, who among Will’s colleagues was on the take.

The story deals with pretty heavy subject matter, not just the murder investigation but also child abuse and rape (all in the past and not graphic but still, hard to read at times).

CWs: murder, violence, abuse and rape (including child abuse and rape, in the past), fatphobia, biphobia, manipulation, gaslighting

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Charlie Adhara

Review: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing by Charlie Adhara

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Title: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing (Big Bad Wolf #4)
Author: Charlie Adhara
Genre / Themes: Shifters /Murder mystery
Release date: 2 March 2020 

Author's links: Website / Twitter/ Goodreads

My rating: 5 Stars

Blurb

Agent Cooper Dayton and his partner, Oliver Park, are going undercover—at a retreat for couples who need counselling. They do say the best cover story is one that’s close to the truth…

Agent Cooper Dayton is almost relieved to get a phone call from his former boss at the Bureau of Special Investigations. It means a temporary reprieve from tensions created by house hunting with Oliver Park, his partner both in work and in life. Living together in a forever home is exactly what Cooper wants. He’s just not keen on working out the details.

With a former alpha werewolf missing, Cooper and Park are loaned to the BSI to conduct the search at a secluded mountain retreat. The agents will travel to the resort undercover…as a couple in need of counseling.

The resort is picturesque, the grounds are stunning and the staff members are all suspicious as hell.

With a long list of suspects and danger lurking around every cabin, Cooper should be focusing on the case. But he’s always been anxious about the power dynamics in his relationship with Park, and participating in the couples’ activities at the retreat brings it all to the surface. A storm is brewing, though, and Cooper and Park must rush to solve the case before the weather turns. Or before any more guests—or the agents themselves—end up dead. 

Review 

This is the fourth book in the series following the same couple who have already gotten together and now we see them navigating being in a relationship, something none of the MCs has much experience with while simultaneously investigating another criminal case involving werewolves.

This story is well written and the suspense plot is very engaging. I liked how atmospheric the setting was, we get a strong sense of the place where the story is set, a picturesque mountain retreat, simultaneously isolated and lush, dangerous both for humans and werewolves,

Oliver and cooper went undercover into a couples' retreat for werewolves. and were forced by te circumstances to talk through a lot of the things between them. On top of the close quarters, they got caught in a brutal storm deep into a murder investigation. I liked seeing them opening more with each other, talking about their fears and doubts. They get the chance to learn more about teir partner but also to discover new things about themselves. 

The issues they faced in their relationship felt real to me - (self)-doubt, are you good enough for your partner, do you want to same things in the long term. And all this ad the added bonus of one of them being a werewolf in a world were werewolves existed but few humans knew about them.

Among of the strengths of the book for me was the inclusivity of the world it created - we see m/f, f/f and m/m couples. I also liked the way PTSD and anxiety were presented in the story. Most of all I liked how Oliver and Cooper's love was show as caring and protecting your partner. This resonated deeply with me.

This is shaping into a great rom suspense series and I can't wait to read the next book with more of Oliver and Cooper's adventures coming out in 2021. 

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Book recs

10 Enemies to Lovers Romances

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Next post in my series of posts with 10 romances on a specific topic/trope. This time I am focusing on one of my favourite tropes, enemies to lovers. I love it because of the high tension it provides and for the journey the characters have to take to get their HEA. 



1/ Headliners by Lucy Parker - True enemies and professional rivals though he has harboured a secret attraction to her for ages. Forced to work together to save their careers they become friends than lover (after a heart-felt and sincere apology on his part). 
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2/ Luck of the Draw by Kate Clayborn. God, the tension here, the pure hatred he had for her and her desperate desire to atone for the past and the hurt she caused him and his family. I absolutely love it.
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3/ Hard Knocks by Ruby Lang. Not so much enemies as finding themselves at the opposite sides of the line - she is a doctors warning against head injuries in hockey, he is hockey player standing up for his sport. In the end they discover thy have much more in common than it seems at first glance. 
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4/ The One You Fight For by Roni Loren. This one is heart-breaking. He is the brother of the school shooter who changed their lives forever, she is a surviour of the shooting which took her younger sister's life. They are the two unlikeliest people to get together, and yet they do, overcoming doubts and anger and regret. My favourite in the series. 
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5/ Something Human by AJ Demas. They are warriors in opposing camps. They come from two different worlds. They help each other, they care for the other and feel for each other and ultimately, make each other happy. 
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6/ Pansies by Alexis Hall. A bully romance like no other. One of the MCs was part of a group of boys who bullied the other MC in school. And he just discovered he is attracted to men. Not a promising start of their relationship. Lots of anger, hurt and pain to deal with before they get their HEA.
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7/ Never Loved by Charlotte Stein. Another bully romance but wow, did the author manage to make me care for the (former) bully. It’s a heavy read but very moving at the same time and relatable, real people with real issues, nothing is black or white and people are growing and changing. 
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8/ Burn Down the Night by Molly O’Keefe. Heroine kidnaps the hero who is a biker wanted by the authorities and his former biker brothers. Lots of tension, some real fear for one’s life, the highest stakes to save your loved ones. 
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9/ Behind the Mask by Carolyn Crane. He is the notorious criminal she is after. Neither knows this when they meet. There is passion and anger and fighting the bad guys and falling in love amidst chaos. 
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10/ Fool Me Forever by Ainslie Paton. On the surface he is everything she despises but he is also the only one that can help her. A tumultuous relationship that shakes them both to their cores and makes them re-evaluate their views of themselves and the world. 
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Honourable mentions: 
I want to give a shout-out to two YA fantasy romances that are gorgeous and feature MCs who are enemies in the truest sense of the word. They hate and chase each other for most of the stories and their getting together is just glorious, pure magic! 

The Folk of the Air series of fantasy romance by Holly Black, no greater enemies have ever come together as lovers than Cardan and Jude! 
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To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo, The Little Mermaid retelling where he is a pirate prince chasing the mermaids who are feared sea monsters. 

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Contemporary Romance

Review: One Night with the Sexiest Man Alive

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Title: One Night with the Sexiest Man Alive
Author: Ainslie Paton
Genre: Contemporary romance, Hollywood star
Release Date: 27 Feb 2020

Author's links:

My rating: 5 Stars


Blurb


Haydn Delany’s Hollywood star shone so brightly, even being the manager of an event he was headlining didn’t ensure Teela Carpenter would get the chance to meet him, and she was fine with that. Really, fine. Okay, it was hugely disappointing not to meet the much-admired actor come activist dubbed the Sexist Man Alive.

Until Haydn appeared inexplicably on the balcony where she stood, kissed her hand and gave her a story to dine out on for years.

That was before a raging tropical thunderstorm, an annoying car accident and ruined shoes put him in her path again. This time as her white knight.

And a one-night stand that might just last forever.

Review 

I'm a big fan of Ainslie Paton's writing and even though celebrities romances are not my favourite romance subgenre, I was excited to read this one. It ended being one of the best reads for me this year so far. I loved everything about it, the romance, the MCs, the black moment and the subsequent grovelling, the Pretty Woman vibes. It is a light-hearted (at least initially), fun and sexy with grown-up characters who acted like adults. 

I loved both hero and heroine, he was caring and down-to-Earth despite being names "the sexiest man alive" more than once. He is a genuinely decent human being, determined to use his fame and fortune for good things.

It all started with a hook-up that became a weekend leading to forever. There is lots, lots of well done consent, both of the characters going into the affair with open eyes and then falling for each other despite themselves. 

Teela was amazing, ambitious and level-headed but also open to new things, wanting to experience life to the fullest. At the same time she was not acting reckless or irresponsible. She kept her wits about and enjoyed the fairy tale. 

There were some Pretty Woman/Cinderella moments which made me happy to read. They had to navigate his wealth without making her feeling cheap or bought and it worked really well for me.  

Both Teela and Haydn refused to admit they have fallen for the other - him because he is convinced he doesn’t want a relationship, she because she wants one and is convinced it’s impossible to have it with him. 

I want to share a bit of the story that had great impact on me. He had a vasectomy because he didn’t want children and he told her that early into their weekend together. He had it reversed when he realised he wanted a relationship with her and it’s not because he suddenly wanted children, but because he didn’t want to take away her choice without even discussing the possibility of children. The issue of bodily autonomy is a hot one and I loved how it was handled in this story. 

Things turned more serious in the second half, they felt more real and relatable. There was a great grovel scene worthy of a Hollywood's sexiest man alive and their HEA left me with the biggest smile on my face. 

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Charish Reid

Review: Hearts on Hold by Charish Reid

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Title: Hearts on Hold: A Librarian Romance
Author: Charish Reid
Date of publication: 3 Feb 2020
Genre: Contemporary romance, Librarian hero, College prof heroine

Author's links:

My rating: 3 stars


Blurb 

What happens in the stacks stays in the stacks…

Professor Victoria Reese knows an uphill battle when she sees one. Convincing her narrow-minded colleagues at the elite Pembroke University to back a partnership with the local library is a fight she saw coming and already has a plan for. What she didn’t see coming? The wildly hot librarian who makes it clear books aren’t the only thing he’d like to handle.

When a tightly wound, sexy-as-hell professor proposes a partnership between his library and her university, children’s department head John Donovan is all for it. He knows his tattoos and easygoing attitude aren’t quite what she expected, but the unmistakable heat between them is difficult to resist.

And then there’s the intriguing late fee on her record. For the Duke’s Convenience… A late fee and a sexy romance novel? There’s more to Dr. Reese than she’s letting on.

John might like to tease her about her late fee, but when he teases her in other ways, Victoria is helpless to resist. Mixing business with pleasure—and oh, it is pleasure—always comes with risks, but maybe a little casual fun between the sheets is just what Victoria needs.

Review 

This was my first book by that author and was drawn to the premise of a romance between a female academic and a male librarian. There were things I enjoyed in the story but also quite a few things in it left me annoyed and disappointed.

The heroine is a Black professor in an elite private college with the all the struggles and hard work and fighting discrimination this entails. I enjoyed that aspect of the story very much. Her professional life made a big portion of who she was and I liked getting such an in-depth view of it.

At the same time her relationship with her family was hard for me to buy into. They treated her and she acted with them like she was not 34yo professional woman but rather a child that needs constant guidance and advise. The age thing in fact is something I struck me as not quite right for both MCs - most of the time they read to me as much younger than 34 and 38 respectively. His moms (birth mother and step mom) referred to him as kiddo all the time, acting like he was incompetent/unrealiable because of his ADD and this really bothered me.

The MCs start a sex pact relationship, a sordid affair, though he knew he wanted more from the start. I had no real issues with the back and forth of their relationship, the hesitancy, the doubt, it all was relatable. Still, he kept thinking she is so much better than him and I just didn’t see that big of a social difference between them, I couldn't understand his lack of self-confidence. 

My biggest issues was the character development which seemed inconsistent to me. It's minor things, starting with appearance, for example. She was described as having thick thighs and big boobs, he kept saying how soft she was and he is described numerous times as super big and tall, she calls him the Viking and then suddenly they are sparring in the gym and she is some master fighter who beats him down. Nothing until that moment suggested she was athletic in any way. And he was not just tall but described and strong and very toned, it could be me but this didn't read as accurate to me.

Then there is a whole incident with her at her parents' party that I found to be completely out of place and out of character for her. I didn't expected it, still don't see what it added to the story or to her character. 

We know the hero is a librarian but we barely learn anything about his job, why he chose it for himself, what his dreams and plans were. In contrast there is quite a lot of page time dedicated to her career (which I liked reading about). I would have preferred to get more of his professional life as well. It would have made him more real, tangible, given him substance which I found he overall lacked. 

There was a lot of going on in that story, lot of side characters with their own plotlines and in the end it felt chaotic and overburdened, lacking depth. 

These are all small things but they added up for me and took out a lot of my enjoyment of this story.

PS: A couple of librarians have noted on Twitter about something the hero does that is a cross violation of his professional ethic and irl would lead to him getting fired. I admit I missed it when I read it but after seeing their comments, I absolutely agree it was inappropriate and could have been easily avoided. 

CW: misogyny, bullying (side character), drinking-related accident

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Adriana Anders

Review: Whiteout by Adriana Anders

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Title: Whiteout 
Author: Adriana Anders
Date of publication: 28 Jan 2020
Genre: Romantic suspense, Antarctica

Author's links:

My rating: 5 stars


Blurb

Angel Smith is ready to leave Antarctica for a second chance at life. But on what was meant to be her final day, the research station is attacked. Hunted and scared, she and glaciologist Ford Cooper barely make it out with their lives…only to realize that in a place this remote, there's nowhere left to run.

Isolated in the middle of a long, frozen winter with a madman at their heels, they must fight to survive in the most inhospitable—and beautiful—place on earth. But the outside world depends on what Ford and Angel know and, as their pursuers close in and their new partnership burns bright and hot, they will stop at nothing to make it out of the cold alive.

Review

Suspense is not my to-go romance subgenre but I was interested in this one being set in the Antarctica. It’s a new-to-me setting and not very common one. I have read this author before and her books have been hit or miss to me and I am very glad to say this one was definitely of the hit variety. 

I liked both the suspense plot and the romance, they were in perfect balance and none overshadowed the other. It’s a kind of sunshine / grumpy romance and I found it to be well done and relatable. Hero is a loner scientist who is hiding from himself and the world in Antarctica. Heroine is a journey of self-discovery of her own. They get stuck together and by themselves being chased by criminals amidst the cold of the winter season on Antarctica.

I liked how the romance happened between them, the strong chemistry which he tried to resist, lots of cuddling together for warmth. And I was happy to see the physical intimacy happening only after they managed to secure a real shelter from the elements and unlike often in rom suspense, they were not in imminent danger.

I liked how their relationship progressed and how their views of each the changed as they got to know the other preson better. He no longer saw her as this bubbly, caring young woman, but also as someone who is strong and determined and loyal and he was in literal awe of her. She got to see more of him too, he really opened up to her, sharing painful stories from his past and being slightly hopeful for the future. 

The setting was very atmospheric, the harshness of the elements at the pole really stood out for me. I have never been to Antarctica or a similarly cold place and after reading this story, I don' want too.

Ooverall, this is an action-packed story with engaging suspense plot (it did go a bit over board towards the end, but I can let that slide) and a solid romance. I am definitely there for more of this series.

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Nalini Singh

Review: A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh

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Title: A Madness of Sunshine
Author: Nalini Singh
Date of publication: 3 Dec 2019
Genre: Thriller 

Author's links:


Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb

On the rugged West Coast of New Zealand, Golden Cove is more than just a town where people live. The adults are more than neighbors; the children, more than schoolmates.

That is until one fateful summer—and several vanished bodies—shatters the trust holding Golden Cove together. All that’s left are whispers behind closed doors, broken friendships, and a silent agreement not to look back. But they can’t run from the past forever.

Eight years later, a beautiful young woman disappears without a trace, and the residents of Golden Cove wonder if their home shelters something far more dangerous than an unforgiving landscape.

It’s not long before the dark past collides with the haunting present and deadly secrets come to light. 

I love Nalini’s PNR, Psy-Changeling series in particular. THis is her first thriller and there were some great things in it but also some not so great ones. 

Review 

This is Nalini Singh's first thriller and since I am a big fan of her Psy-changeling series of PNR and I have enjoyed some her contemporary romances, I was curious to see her attempt to write in a completely different genre. I have mixed feelings, but it was a compelling read and I am here for more thrillers by Nalini Singh is she goes in that direction.

I loved the heroine, she is returning to her small town on the NZ coast, angry and bitter, rightly so and never just forgives the people who hurt her. I loved her voice, her strength and determination but also her empathy and compassion.

As a romance reader, I am glad that the author included a solid romance arc here. It worked well for me, I could see the connection between Will and Anahera and also understand their reluctance to start anything. Two people with difficult past, with lots of baggage caught in the middle of a small town murder investigation.

While I loved Anahera, I had some issues with Will. He was not very professional in getting her involved in his investigation and sharing info with her. He was quick to judge people and I was not always a fan of how he treated everyone but I managed to overlook this because of the way he treated Anahera - always respectful, supporting, never pressuring or dismissing her. 

Best elements in the story was the very strong atmospheric representation of the small town and the wild nature around it. Nature with absolute untameness was almost like another character in the story. 

Miriama was put on a pedestal by practically everyone in town because of her beauty and vivacity and I am not too happy about it. I would have liked more substance to her character, to be honest.

I guessed the murderer at some point but this is not really an issue for me. What bothered me though was the implication that what happened to him in the past made him the monster that he is. It’s lazy and stereotypical writing and also insulting to survivors of abuse.

The story also portrayed great female friendships, to see how people change and grow and their friendship changes with them, how difficult it is to make/keep friends.

It’s not a perfect book but captivating nevertheless. I think it shows it’s Nalini’s first attempt at thrillers. There were gorgeous bits in the story and her writing was as polished and engaging as I have to come to expect. Still, there were problematic aspects, deeply hurtful ones that could have been avoided. 

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Book recs

10 Grumpy & Sunshine Romances

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I have been meaning to try writing a series of posts with recs for romances with specific tropes, around specific topics, etc. I was inspired to for this list of 10 grumpy and sunshine romances after I finished Whiteout by Adriana Anders last week which fits this category - the heroine is a ray of sunshine and the hero is a grumpy loner. I will be reviewing the book in full next week.

10 Grumpy & Sunshine Romances

1. Austen’s Playbook by Lucy Parker. I’d say most of Lucy Parker's romances fall in this category but I chose that one because Freddy is just the sunniest sunshine possible and Griff is the grumpiest grump in the world and they ork together so, so well.
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2. Glitterland by Alexis Hall. Ash is not just grumpy, he is a true misanthrope and at the same I couldn’t help but fell for him. And Darian, well Darian is a glitter pirate through and through and that’s all you need to know him. And they make the unlikeliest, yet perfect couple.
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3. Ashwin by Kit Rocha. A genetically modified perfect soldier, how can he be anything but taciturn and grumpy, heroine is a healer (also genetically modified), most caring and selfless.
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4. Love Experiment by Ainslie Paton, m/f contemporary romance. He is a big short investigative journalist, she is a new-on-the-job colleague, doing listicles and light content for the online version of the newspaper. They fall in love testing an experiment of 20 questions to see if two people are compatible.
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5. A Conspiracy of Whispers by Ada Harper, dystopian m/f romance, she is a badass assassin who is as grumpy as they come, he is the queen’s brother and military general who does his best to make her happy.
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6. Brooklynaire by Sarina Bowen, m/f hockey romance, hero is a self-made millionaire, tech geek who owns a hockey club, she is his office assistance. He is silent and brooding, she is an eternal optimist, happy and easy going.
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7. Silver Silence by Nalini Singh, m/f PNR, first in a spin-off series. Silver is a powerful psy, Valentin is the alpha of the bear clan. She has her emotions locked tight, he is surprisingly playful for an alpha. They are total opposites but both care deeply for the ones they love and this brings them together.
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8. Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand, m/f contemporary. Dominque is a top French chef, big and brooding, silent and only expressing his feeling through the chocolates he makes. Jaime is bruised and battered at this point in her life but her sunshine nature comes through.
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9. A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole, Portia is a firecracker, full of life and new ideas, Tavish is quieter, a bit sullen, somewhat disillusioned and they make a great pair bringing out the best in each other.
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10. What Kind of Day by Mina V. Esguerra, hero is having the worst day, heroine is having her fair deal of problems but is rather optimistic and hopeful. Falling in love with someone on the worst day of your life, works amazingly well in this contemporary m/f romance set in Manila.
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February 2020

February 2020 Releases on My TBR List

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1/ Hearts on Hold by Charish Reid, m/f contemporary. I have not read that author before but I was drawn to the premise of a small-town romance between a Uni professor (the heroine) and the local librarian (the hero). Out on 3 Feb. 
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2/ A Heart of Blood and Ashes, fantasy romance by Milla Vane (aka Meljean Brook). I have read and enjoyed some of this author’s steampunk romance in the Iron King series. This is her first new book in a couple of years and I looking forward to trying it. Out on 4 Feb.
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3/ House Rules by Ruby Lang. The final novella in a series of three, all stand-alones, contemporary m/f romances involving city planners/architects/real estate agents. I like Ruby Lang’s voice and her writing generally works for me. Out on 10 Feb
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4/ The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood. This queer adult fantasy is on my TBR list  because I want to read more fantasy and its cover is simply gorgeous. Out on 11 Feb
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5/ One Last Chance by Therese Beharrie, another final book in a series of m/f romances, standalones. I have enjoyed the first book and need to catch up with the second before this release. Out 17 Feb
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6/ Fire & Water by Alexis Hall is the next installment in his Urban fantasy f/f series. Alexis Hall is one of my favourite authors out there and I am here for all his books. The first two books in this series were published by Riptide and since then have been polished and re-released. This book is brand-new, never-before-seen and I am binge-reading them all starting at the beginning of February. Out on 24 Feb.
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7/ A Cowboy to Remember by Rebekah Weatherspoon. I'm not much of a reader of cowboy romances but I am intrigued by this one, it features a Black cowboy written by a Black author. Out on 24 Feb. 
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8/ Unforgiven by Jay Crownover, book 2 in small-town m/f romance series. Second chance romance. I liked the prequel novella (with a rodeo rider hero and a fashion designer heroine). Out on 25 Feb. 
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I already tweeted abut that book but I'm giving up on it after reading 70%. I just can't accept the romance between the MCs when the heroine was engaged the the hero's dead brother but both hero and heroine now claim to have been in love from the first time they met. Do not recommend!

9/ One Night with the Sexiest Man Alive by Ainslie Pato. Book 1 in a new series of contemporary m/f romance, described by the author as her attempt at category style romance. I already have the ARC and I can't wait to read it. Out on 27 Feb. 
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Contemporary Romance

Review: Open House by Ruby Lang

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Author: Ruby Lang
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance
Release Date: 11 Nov 2019

Author links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads

My rating: 3,5 Stars



Blurb 

Love can take root where you least expect it.

Tyson Yang never imagined that one day he’d be the de facto spokesperson for an illegal community garden. But when the once-rat-infested-but-now-thriving Harlem lot goes up for sale, Ty can’t just let all their hard work get plowed under.

Even if he is irresistibly drawn to the lovely but infuriatingly stubborn real estate associate.

Magda Ferrer’s family is already convinced this new job will be yet another flop in her small but growing list of career path failures. But her student debt isn’t going anywhere, and selling her uncle’s historic town house and the lot nearby means a chance to get some breathing room.

Ty is her charming rival, her incorrigible nemesis, the handsome roadblock to her success.

Until one hot Harlem night blurs the hard line drawn between them, and the seeds of possibility in this rocky garden blossom into love…

Review

It was a nice, somewhat subdued city romance. I loved the focus on community, coupled with some interesting and very real family dynamics. I  liked how none of the characters are perfect, they have their strengths and weakness and makes mistakes but learn from them. It's not some preachy story, rather, it's about kindness and supporting, uplifting each other. 

It's very much focused on unlikely friendships and love connections. all about building, something, creating. I liked seeing the heroine acting like an adult, dealing with very real issues of dealing with dept, struggling professionally. While I loved seeing her as a newbie in her job, I never felt like she settled properly in her job. It never read to me like being a real estate agent was her dream job and despite being good at it, it never felt properly satisfactory to her. I have mixed feelings about this to be honest. Lots of people do a job that they are good at without loving it, but still I would have preferred to see her happier/more optimistic about her career choice. 

It's a true enemies-to-lovers, they were literally at the opposite sides of the fence. There was no real hate though, both understood the position of the other. Lots of angst there and a feel-good, working resolution of the conflict. 

While I liked the overall writing, I wanted more character development, stronger connection between the MCs, more focus on their romantic relationship. I didn’t really buy the whole plotline with her uncle and his neighbour/classmate. It seemed far-fetched and at odds with the very real, down-to-earth feel of the rest of the book. 

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Contemporary

Review: Headliners by Lucy Parker

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Title: Headliners (London Celebrities #5)
Author: Lucy Parker
Genre / Themes: Romance / TV presenters/ British
Release date: 20 Jan 2020

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads

My rating: 5 Stars


Blurb

He might be the sexiest man in London, according to his fan site (which he definitely writes himself), but he’s also the most arrogant man she’s ever met.

She might have the longest legs he’s ever seen, but she also has the sharpest tongue.

For years, rival TV presenters Sabrina Carlton and Nick Davenport have traded barbs on their respective shows. The public can’t get enough of their feud, but after Nick airs Sabrina’s family scandals to all of Britain, the gloves are off. They can barely be in the same room together—but these longtime enemies are about to become the unlikeliest of cohosts.

With their reputations on the rocks, Sabrina and Nick have one last chance to save their careers. If they can resurrect a sinking morning show, they’ll still have a future in television. But with ratings at an all-time low and a Christmas Eve deadline to win back the nation’s favor, the clock is ticking—and someone on their staff doesn’t want them to succeed.

Small mishaps on set start adding up, and Sabrina and Nick find themselves—quelle horreur—working together to hunt down the saboteur…and discovering they might have more in common than they thought. When a fiery encounter is caught on camera, the public is convinced that the reluctant cohosts are secretly lusting after one another.

The public might not be wrong.

Their chemistry has always been explosive, but with hate turning to love, the stakes are rising and everything is on the line. Neither is sure if they can trust these new feelings…or if they’ll still have a job in the New Year.

Review

This is another great installment in the London Celebrities series. It works as standalone but we see a lot of the MCs in the previous book, the Austen Playbook, so I would recommend reading it before you pick up  Headliners (and all the previous books while you are at it :)

Lucy Parker's writing is outstanding as usual, the many laugh out loud funny moments were unexpected but highly appreciated. A very moving enemies to lovers romance, two professionals in a rough place, forced to work together to save their careers.

I found the main conflict believable, their animosity and dislike felt real and I was convinced in their growth as people which led them to see each other in a different light. The simmering physical attraction between them had always been there but the needed to be ready to admit it to themselves and act on it. His regret was heart-felt, came after deep soul searching and facing some inconvenient truths about who he was/ was becoming. She had heavy family issues to to deal with, and ex-partner who kept causing problems.

It's a fast paced story, a minor suspense plot and lots of holiday feels, sense of family and togetherness. It all felt natural, they way their families were present in their lives. I loved seeing him staying friends with his ex (and he new husband). The complexity of the relationship between siblings, parents was very interesting for me to read.

Some of the plot twists towards the end felt over the top. The "baddy" got their dues but felt too contrived and didn't fit with with character in my opinion. I am purposefully vague because here because I want to avoid spoilers.

Highly recommended read!

CW: loss of a parent (in the past), grief, minor incidents

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2019

My Favourite Books of 2019

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Here is a list of ten books (including full series I read in 2019), romance and fantasy which I read and loved in the past year. I tweeted out those in December under the hashtag #myfavebooks2019.


1/ To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo, YA fantasy retelling of the Little Mermaid. I was gifted this book for the holidays by a dear friend and I absolutely loved it. A beautifully written powerful story about good and evil. Buy on Amazon

2/ Kiss and Cry by Mina V. Esguerra, contemporary sports romance, heroine is an former figure skater, hero is a retiring hockey player, both living in the Philippines where winter sports are very popular. I loved the different aspect of sports we see in this story and the second-chance, low-angst romance. Read my review / Buy on Amazon

3/ Teach Me by Olivia Dade is a warm hug of a book. Contemporary romance with two high school teacher MCs, a fat Ice Queen heroine and a shy divorced dad hero. So much care and support and appreciation this book! Read my review / Buy on Amazon

4/ The Austen Playbook by Lucy Parker. Her books consistently work great for me but this one is really outstanding - the grumpiest but most caring hero, the moist sunshine heroine to ever sunshine, a bit of historical subplot, some cozy mystery elements.Read my review / Buy on Amazon

5/ Gilded Cage by KJ Charles is an exquisite historical m/f second chance romance with a bi heroine. I loved everything about it - the romance, the MCs, the crime plot, the HEA. Read my review / Buy on Amazon

6/ The Mysterious Stranger by Ainslie Paton - an intense romantic suspense, childhood friends to lovers. Great rep on gaslighting and emotional manipulation. Modern Robin Hood kind of families. Works as standalone. Read my review / Buy on Amazon

7/ Arden St. Ives series by Alexis Hall this year after the release of the final book and it's definitely one of #myfavbooks2019. High heat, high emotion, coming of age, overcoming trauma, finding oneself, effortlessly and quintessentially queer! Read my review / Buy on Amazon

8/ The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix. E. Harrow is a portal fantasy with an awesome female protagonist, a debut book which I thoroughly enjoyed. I read more SFF in 2019 I have ever done before and this is one of the best I read. Read my review/ Buy on Amazon

9/ The Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh. A breath-stopping first thriller by this author, very atmospheric, great heroine. I had some issues with the final resolution but very much liked the rest of the book. Buy on Amazon

10/ Folk of Air series by Holly Black. It's a YA fantasy series which I picked on a friends' recommendation and thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved book 2 the best and found book 3 the weakest of all but overall the whole trilogy is outstanding, captivating tale of magic and love and power and finding oneself. Highly recommend it. Buy on Amazon 

Honourable mentions: Thrown to the Wolves, m/m shifter murder mystery romance by Charlie Adhara; The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, queer fantasy riff of Sherlock Holmes by Alexis Hall; Thirsty, m/f (ex) gangster romance by Mia Hopkins.


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