Charlie Adhara

Review: Pack of Lies by Charlie Adhara

02:30

Title: Pack of Lies (Monster Hunt)
Author: Charlie Adhara
Genre / Themes: Shifters /Murder mystery
Release date: 31 Aug 2022

Author's links: Website / Twitter/ Goodreads

My rating: 5 Stars

Blurb 

Werewolf meets human. Werewolf snubs human. Werewolf loves human?

Julien Doran arrived in sleepy Maudit Falls, North Carolina, with a heart full of hurt and a head full of questions. The key to his brother's mysterious last days might be found in this tiny town, and now Julien's amateur investigation is starting to unearth things the locals would rather keep buried.

Perhaps most especially the strange, magnetic manager of a deserted retreat that's nearly as odd as its staff.

Eli Smith is a lot of things: thief, werewolf, glamour-puss, liar. And now the manager of a haven for rebel pack runaways. He’s spent years cultivating a persona to disguise his origins, but for the first time ever he’s been entrusted with a real responsibility—and he plans to take that seriously.

Even if the handsome tourist who claims to be in town for some R & R is clearly on a hunt for all things paranormal. And hasn't taken his brooding gaze off Eli since he's arrived.

When an old skeleton and a fresh corpse turn a grief errand into a murder investigation, the unlikely Eli is the only person Julien can turn to. Trust is hard to come by in a town known for its monsters, but so is time…

Review 

This is the start of a spin-off series from the Big bad Wolf series which I absolutely love. I have to say this is pretty strong start and I am intrigued by the MCs and looking forward to reading more about them. I get the feelings we will be following the same couple in multiple books again (Cooper and Park have the loveliest cameo btw).

The tone and whole setting is very similar to the previous series, a sort of seamless continuation though it stands well on its own.

The story has a bit of a bit of country house intrigue but with werewolves and monsters. We have already met Eli in the previous book but we get to discover completely new sides of him. The other MC, Julien was rather intriguing as well - an older bi man with two divorces behind and a flagging movie career mourning the loss of his brother. Strong focus on complicated family relations and grief. He is anxious and lost and full of doubts and questions. I liked that he was confident in his bisexuality yet shy and flustered, with no real experience being with men. I think the dynamics in their intimacy - the exploration, the abundant communication, the power play - it was all exquisitely done.

We learned a bit about Eli's past though not much and we see the scars both he and Lucien carry. Eli doesn't show much of himself, he is outwardly confident, provocative but always wearing a mask, never opening himself to the world (and not just because he is werewolf in a world where humans are not aware of werewolves existing).

A particular aspect of the story and the relationship that I enjoyed a lot was this dance of trust and betrayal, of keeping secrets and sharing things you haven't shared with anyone else. We see two grown men being vulnerable, open, caring but also a little sacred, somewhat apprehensive, secretive because life has taught them to rely on themselves, Eli specifically.

As for the suspense plot, it was fast-paced, engaging, kept e guessing till the very end. Interesting, full-fledged side characters both good and bad ones.

The monster hunting which was at the heart of the story with some people genuinely believing in it, others using it for their own agenda, it was an on-point commentary of human/wolves in the world of the books but also on who is the monster and who is the hunter in real life. It was well done and I liked it a lot.

Overall, this is a promising start of new m/m PNR suspense series and I am excited for the upcoming books.

CW: loss of a family member, grief, violence, murders, serious injuries, anxiety

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Emily Sullivan

Review: The Hellion and the Hero by Emily Sullivan

06:39

Title: The Hellion and the Hero
(League of Scoundrels #3)
Author: Emily Sullivan
Date of publication: 23 Aug 2022
Genre: Historical romance

Author's links:

My rating: 3 stars


Blurb

Society darling Lady Georgiana Arlington spent years crafting her image as the ideal wife, but since her husband’s unexpected death, she has lived mostly for herself while making desperately needed improvements to the businesses she inherited­­––and gaining a mysterious enemy in the process. With few people she can trust, Georgiana must rely on Captain Henry Harris, a former fortune-hunter turned private investigator who once claimed to love the woman beneath her carefully polished veneer. Time and experience have left a heavy mark on the dashing young officer she used to know, but she finds herself even more drawn to the dark and complicated man he has become.

When Captain Harris left London eight years ago, he was heartbroken and nearly penniless. Now he has returned as a decorated naval hero with everything he could ever want. Everything except Lady Georgiana… As a careless young woman, she once shredded his heart when she married another man. But now she is as alluring as ever, with a newfound tenacity he can’t help but admire. And the more he uncovers, the more nothing is as it seems, especially the woman he once swore to hate forever.

Review 

Another great installment in a fun historical romance series though it was not my favourite.

This is a second chance romance where the conflict was based on a misunderstanding almost until the very end. It did create some great angst but also was frustrating at times. The lack of communication and making assumption about the feelings of the other went on for too long and I wanted to shake the MCs and tell to talk to each other already.

I realise it is not that simple and being open and honest about one's feelings can be super hard. On top of that hero is broody and silent and heroine is too proud and independent. Still, love finds a way eventually.

There is a minor suspense plot serving to bring the MCs together. And highly enjoyable siblings and meddling friends. It was all cosy and nice but somehow lacking tension and enough conflict for me.

I want to make special note of the grumpy hero who sincerely admired the heroine for her professional success and risk-taking in her business endeavors. He found his true calling in the end as well and I was very happy for him.

Overall, the story had a a kind of airy, breezy quality, everything resolving quickly, things getting perfect for everyone.

It's a nice, solid romance with a bit of adventure (Monte Carlo and casinos), a bit of suspense, a lot of chemistry and secrets. I went expecting more drama and tension but if you are looking for a more low-key, happy-making historical romance that covers a broader slice of society than just the Ton, this would be perfect for you.

Content notes: disabled hero (knee injury), some violence, abduction and attempted murder


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F/F romance

Review: The Oleander Sword by Tasha Suri

02:30

 

Title: The Oleander Sword (Burning Kingdoms #2)
Author: Tasha Suri
Genre/Themes: Fantasy, f/f romance, Indian setting and MCs
Release Date: 16 Aug 2022

Author's links: Website Twitter Goodreads Instagram

My rating: 5 Stars



Blurb 

The prophecy of the nameless god—the words that declared Malini the rightful empress of Parijatdvipa—has proven a blessing and curse. She is determined to claim the throne that fate offered her. But even with the strength of the rage in her heart and the army of loyal men by her side, deposing her brother is going to be a brutal and bloody fight.

The power of the deathless waters flows through Priya’s blood. Thrice born priestess, Elder of Ahiranya, Priya’s dream is to see her country rid of the rot that plagues it: both Parijatdvipa's poisonous rule, and the blooming sickness that is slowly spreading through all living things. But she doesn’t yet understand the truth of the magic she carries.

Their chosen paths once pulled them apart. But Malini and Priya's souls remain as entwined as their destinies. And they soon realize that coming together is the only way to save their kingdom from those who would rather see it burn—even if it will cost them.

Review 

Gorgeous, moving, full of magic and suspense!

Often the second books in series loose the momentum of the first one. This was very much not the case here. It very much upped the stakes on the romance, the magic, the suspense.

The story continues where it left off at the end of book 1 with Malini on her way to the throne and Priya trying to rebuild Ahirniya. We meet a bunch of new characters, often seeing things from their POV. It’s never confusing or too much, rather it creates a very vivid world. It is amazing to me how distinctive and well developed even the minor characters in this series are.

As the story unfolds we see court intrigue and priestly manipulation abound. All the while Malini and Priya and Bumikha and Rao and Aditya try to follow their destiny without losing themselves completely. The author consistently gives us outstanding female characters, they all have different strength and lead a fight to live their lives on their own terms. We see women leading armies and fighting, providing spiritual guidance and wielding magical powers, giving political advise. It is a powerful you-have-a-choice-and-can-be-anything-you-want-to-be message for me and I found it really uplifting.

I loved the writing, loved the magic with all its darkness and demand for sacrifice and how the women try to carve a place for themselves in a world that’s essentially hostile towards them.

While I fully empathise with Malini and Priya and Bumikha and Rao and Aditya, I really found Chandra’s chapters fascinating as well. A villain through and through but with layers, with motivation – a living breathing human being. He is petty and vindictive, with delusions of grandeur but also there are moments where we see him lost and vulnerable and scared while still being very much the bad guy.

The romance between Malini and Priya is intense, facing one too many obstacles, embroiled in power struggles and magic that is too powerful, too demanding, too consuming. I can’t wait to see how things between develop in the next book because they don’t look very hopeful right now.

I am not ready to talk about Bumikha and all that happens with Ahiranya. Avoiding spoilers, I can only say it offers a fascinating take on what gods and monsters are and the choice we make to follow one or the other.

There is no cliffhanger, some plotlines are completed, though the major resolution is forthcoming in the next book. And it promises to be an epic struggle to make things right for everyone.

This is shaping to be an awesome series, one of the best fantasies I have read and I highly recommend it.

CW: violence, dark magic, sacrifice, burning alive, torture

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Angst

Review: Bend Towards the Sun by Jen Devon

02:30

Title: Bend Towards the Sun
Author: Jen Devon
Date of publication: 9 Aug 2022
Genre: Contemporary romance 

Author's links:

Rating: 4 Stars



Blurb 

Two imperfect people. One year under the sun. A love story you won't ever forget.

Rowan McKinnon doesn’t believe in love. With a botany PhD, two best friends who embrace her social quirkiness, and some occasional no-strings sex, she has everything she needs. But she hides deep wounds from the past—from a negligent mother, and a fiancĂ© who treated her like a pawn in a game. When an academic setback leads Rowan to take on the restoration of an abandoned vineyard, she relishes the opportunity to restore the grapes to their former glory.

She does not expect to meet a man like Harrison Brady.

An obstetrician profoundly struggling after losing a patient, Harry no longer believes he is capable of keeping people safe. Reeling, Harry leaves Los Angeles to emotionally recover at his parents’ new vineyard in Pennsylvania.

He does not expect to meet a woman like Rowan McKinnon.

As their combative banter gives way to a simmering tension, sunlight begins to crack through the darkness smothering Harry’s soul. He’s compelled to explore the undeniable pull between them. And after a lifetime of protecting herself from feeling anything, for anyone, Rowan tries to keep things casual.

But even she can’t ignore their explosive connection.

Review 

This is such a wonderful, somewhat old-school romance but with less misogyny and sexual harassment mistaken for lust. It offers top-level angst, great character development which I greatly enjoyed.  

I absolutely loved the coziness and comfort of the a tight-knit family that have each others back that is at the centre of this story. Rowan is basically an orphan heroine who gets adopted in the hero's family without even realizing it. 

This is exactly the kind of contemporary romance I love - strong internal conflict, no artificial drama, great character development. We really see the MCs on a journey towards each other. 

At the start of the book both Rowan and Harrison are at a rough spot, each of them dealing with their own trauma and hurt. While I liked both of them, I have to say we get slightly more insight into her background and why she is acts the way she does now and this made feel closer to her than to him. With him, it's different - there is a major traumatic event that happened recently and he is recovering from it but we do not get much about his childhood/other events besides that single one. It's only toward the very end that me get more insight into him and why his relations with the rest of the family are the way they are now.

The angst is exquisite and I loved every minute of it. A major plus for me in this romance is the fact that things happened slowly, over the course of a full year. Yes, the attraction between Rowan and Harrison is almost instant from the moment they meet and they do get together well before the year is through but their relationship grew over time. And they both needed that time together and away from each other. Harrison is at a really bad place both physically and emotionally when he met the heroine and we see him gradually heal, we see him getting control over of his depression and panic attacks. It's slow and painful but he get unreserved love and support from his family (and Rowan). 

Rowan melted my heart and I wanted to give her the squishiest hug, Her sense of loneliness and being on her own is so acute, it jumped from the pages straight to my heart. Her fear of making a potentially wrong decision with no safety net to back upon was almost palpable to me. And it really stood out in comparison with the care and support Harrison got from his family and he mostly took for granted. 

There is a third-act break up but it very much made sense in the overall plot. Rowan had to do the biggest grovel to win Harrison back and his family was right there for her and I loved that. 

Now, after all that praise, I admit there were some plot twists towards the end that didn't work for me and I felt they were unnecessary and over-the-top. The emotional intensity and conflict between the MCs were strong enough without these added complications. 

Still, the story is highly readable, flowing easily, great setting (a big close-knit family trying to revive a neglected vineyard they bought), awesome family and close friendships, love expressed with small gestures. 

I'm very much looking forward to more books in the series. I am excited to see a bunch of secondary characters get their HEAs 

CW: grief, parent neglect, ex-partner emotional abuse, loss of a patient, anxiety attacks (graphic, on page), depression

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Nalini Singh

Review: Storm Echo by Nalini Singh

02:30

Title: Silver Silence (Psy-Changeling Trinity #6)
Author: Nalini Singh
Date of publication: 26 July 2022
Genre: Paranormal romance, shifters

Author's links:

Rating: 4 Stars



Blurb 

Silence has fallen. The Psy are free to feel emotion. Free to love. But Silence was never a prison for Ivan Mercant. The biggest threat to his future lies dormant in his brain—a psychic monster that wants only to feed. And now, the brutal leash he’s kept on that monster is slipping. He prepared for this day, for the end of Ivan Mercant . . . but that was before he met Lei.
As primal as she is human, this wild changeling brings color into his life, laughter to his soul. Then the dream shatters in a rain of blood, in silent bodies in the snow. Lei is gone. Vanished without a trace . . . until he meets strangely familiar eyes across a busy San Francisco street.

Soleil Bijoux Garcia is a healer who has lost everything. She exists in a world of desolate aloneness . . . till the day she finds herself face-to-face with a lethal stranger. The animal who is her other half knows this man, but her memories are tattered fragments. Sorrow and a need for vengeance are all that drive her. Her mission? To kill the alpha of the DarkRiver leopard pack.

But fate has other plans. Soon, a deadly soldier who believes himself a monster and a broken healer might be all that stand between life and death for the entire Psy race. . .

Review 



This is another great installment in a favourite series. Psys getting together with changelings are my favourite couples, so much passion and restraint, funny first-time moments, pure joy to read.

Every new book in the series is like a homecoming - a familiar world with a complex overarching suspense plot. And every time Nalini Singh manages to surprise me, to make the romance feel fresh and new.

We get a bit of amnesia plot and while I am not a fan of it in general, I didn't mind it here. The twist was that because the mating has already taken place (unawares for both of them, mind you), the animal side of Lei remembered Ivan.

The suspense/mystery plot gets more and more complicated but we see a possibility for solution here which I liked and felt was the right place and time for it.

Like most stories in the series at this stage we get to catch up on a number of familiar characters. Many of the cats make an appearance - Lucas, Nate, Tamsyn and they are as good as ever.

I loved how to story offered the possibility for family, future, something Ivan had given up on.

Most often the Psy have no experience with feelings and intimacy but as highly logical beings they do proper research of the matter. There is even a guidebook circulated among friends that someone made in the previous books iirc. Ivan, though, didn't research sex/intimate relationships because he didn't think it will ever happen to him. When it came to physical intimacy, he let Lei lead him. His complete trust in her was a thing of beauty for me.

A central element in Ivan's story was drug abuse (not him directly) and its consequences. I found the descriptions to be really detailed and very jarring at times. Seeing it from a child's POV made it extra hard to read. The whole series does not shy away from darkness - abuse, both physical and mental is a common theme for many of the books. Still, the drug use here hit me extra hard and I wanted to mention it explicitly.

In the end we got the HEA for our couple, the overarching suspense plot moved a few steps towards resolution and we got a whole new possible plotline opened. That is all to say that I very much enjoyed this book and I am looking forward to the next in the series.

I find it difficult to list CWs for this series but what stood out for me in the book is: drug abuse, parent neglect, loss, car accident (in the past), attempted murder with grave injuries, psychic violence

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