Ballet

Review: The Brightest Star in Paris by Diana Biller

06:22

Title: The Brightest Star in Paris 
Author: Diana Biller
Genre: Historical romance, Paris, Ballet
Release date: 12 Oct 2021

Author Links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads



Blurb

Amelie St. James, prima ballerina of the Paris Opera Ballet and the people's saint, has spent seven years pretending. In the devastating aftermath of the Siege of Paris, she made a decision to protect her sister: she became the bland, sweet, pious “St. Amie” the ballet needed to restore its scandalous reputation. But when her first love reappears, and the ghosts of her past come back to haunt her, all her hard-fought safety is threatened.

Dr. Benedict Moore has never forgotten the girl who helped him embrace life again after he almost lost his. Now, he's back in Paris after twelve years for a conference. His goals are to recruit promising new scientists, and, maybe, to see Amelie again. When he discovers she's in trouble, he's desperate to help her—after all, he owes her.

When she finally agrees to let him help, they disguise their time together with a fake courtship. But reigniting old feelings is dangerous, especially when their lives are an ocean apart. Will they be able to make it out with their hearts intact?

Review

Wow, I loved this romance so, so much. I was late reading Diana Biller's debut historical romance, The Widow of Rose House, and I thoroughly enjoyed. I was so excited for the next book in the series and was not disappointed. It it unlike anything I have ever read or expected it to be and it's stunning.

This is a historical romance set in 1870/80s Paris, a time period and place that are noш a very common romance setting and one that I am not very familiar with. The historical details were strongly present in this book, creating an engaging background without taking the focus away from the main story/romance.

It's very much a grief book, the war trauma, the survival trauma, the loss are palpable on every page. It made tough reading at times but it was mostly balanced out by the geeky, fun Moore family and the intense romance.

I loved the heroine, she is amazing. I want to cuddle her and shake her and take care of her and let her figure out her dreams and follow them. This is what the hero tried to do throughout the book though naturally he messed up a time or two. And she is not perfect either. She has her own demons to fight. And I liked how they both felt, two messed up people dealing with life in the best way they could.

I appreciate the glimpse we get of the ballet world of the time behind the fame and glamour. It's beautiful and terrifying, we see supportive and caring fans but also predatory men who abuse the vulnerability of young girls and a world that enables them to do it.

And on top of this realism, we get ghosts. The heroine is haunted not by one but by three of them. I often struggle to reconcile the realism in a story with its paranormal elements but I had no issues with it here. Somehow the ghosts' presence made sense to me, I felt that they fit into the story seamlessly.

There are flashbacks that also worked naturally. And teenage sisters who were not annoying but brought
pure joy on page. And there was positive message re sex work that I didn't expect but that also made sense in the story for me. Put out like that it may appear there are too many things happening but in reality they were well balanced and the author managed to create a rich, life-like world where a touching romance develops.

In short, I absolutely loved that book and can't recommend it high enough!

CWs: loss, grief, war trauma, murder, abuse, slow, painful death of a loved one (in flashback), dance injuries

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Paranormal Romance

Review: Pretty Little Lion by Suleikha Snyder

02:30

Title: Pretty Little Lion (Third Shift #2)
Author: Suleikha Snyder
Genre /Tropes: PNR, politics, mafia
Release Date: 26 Oct 2021

Author's links:

My rating: 3 Stars


Blurb 

Never fall for your mark. It's rule no. 1 of undercover work...and the rule Third Shift co-founder Elijah Richter breaks the moment he sees Meghna Saxena-Saunders across the room at an arms dealer's VIP party.

Lion shifter and Third Shift operative Elijah Richter has an easy but vital mission: seduce arms dealer Emeric Aston's gorgeous girlfriend, use her as an entry point to the organization, and find out what the global terrorist is planning.

Unfortunately, he doesn't know that Meghna Saxena-Saunders is no ordinary celebrity influencer. She's trained as an assassin and spy, and she has her own reasons for cozying up to Aston. She immediately clocks the mysterious stranger watching her at a VIP party and the two fall into their lusty bed of lies. When their morning-after is interrupted by one of Aston's goons, both of their missions are thrown into jeopardy. Now Meghna must team with Third Shift to cover her tracks and discover the truth before it's too late.

Review 

This is the second book in a paranormal shifter romance series. The first book was just OK for me but it prepared me for the tone/style of the series. I liked this one better since I already knew the world building and I could ignore the things that annoyed me in the first book. 

The suspense is intense, and I like the MCs, we get to see more of the abilities of the supernatural beings (I still don't like the abbreviation sup used in the book). Everything was on high level here - high stakes chase, high heat and chemistry. The romance itself was great. It started with intense chemistry between two supernatural beings with unique abilities and gradually grew into honest intimacy and care for one another. 

I liked getting to know better the rest of the Third Shift crew. We get a side romance between Finn, Grace and Nate and liked seeing the complexities of that budding relationship. I wish they had gotten a book of their own though.

On the plus side, this story has a more developed paranormal aspect, dives deeper into this new dystopian world, gives us a better look into the maze of relationships in the 3S team. The juxtaposition of messed up vs loving supporting family dynamics was another in this story that I enjoyed. 

On the negative side, I have the same complaints as with the first book in the series - too many news quotes and current (US) media discord. For me this series reads more like romantic suspense/mafia romance with very in-your-face political messages rather than an escapist shifter romance. 

It is a solid action packed, high heat, diverse romance but it is not my favourite shifter romance I have read. 

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Cathy Yardley

Review: Love, Comment, Subscribe by Cathy Yardley

02:30

Title: Love, Comment, Subscribe 
(Ponto Beach Reunion #1)
Author: Cathy Yardley
Genre: Contemporary romance, Youtubers 
Release date: 01 Oct 2021

Author Links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Instagram



Blurb 

Back in high school, Lily Wang wanted to be popular, but she considered herself lucky to be part of a tight group of oddballs and honors students called the Nerd Herd. Now, at twenty-eight, she feels like she’s finally on the cusp of succeeding as a beauty influencer—if she can hit five million subscribers, brands will take notice and she could get her own makeup line.

Fellow Nerd Herd alum Tobin Bui has had a lot of success as a YouTube gamer. But the road to online stardom has been rocky. First, he disappointed his parents by dropping out of college, and now, after years of pranks, skits, and playthroughs, he’s struggling to come up with new content to satisfy his ever-growing fan base. His agents say he needs cross-audience appeal, a new twist.

When Nerd Herd frenemy Lily approaches Tobin about teaming up to do a video to bolster her brand and reinvigorate his, he agrees. But when their first collab video goes viral, their relationship heats up too. With the whole internet watching, will these two former misfits finally realize they’re perfect together?


Review 

This is a super fun, enjoyable read. The story flows easily and while it is a bit stereotypical at times, overall this is a cute, feel good romance.

I liked the set up - high school friends/enemies meet 10 years after graduation when their agents suggest they do a collaboration for their youtube channels. I don't really follow any youtubers and I found the behind-the-scenes very interesting.

I liked both Lily and Tobin and I found I could relate to their struggles regardless how different they were. They were opposites in many ways but had more similarities than appeared on the surface. I really liked how they brought the best in each other.

For a light-hearted romance this story had unexpected depths - undiagnosed ADHD and how it affects every aspect of one's life, family expectations and pressure, demands on content creators to produce new, imaginative, fun/clever content all the time. As a long-time blogger I felt some of their struggles very close to me. It's just a hobby for me, they make their living via Youtube but the pressure they were under felt very real to me.

I liked their diverse group of friends (enemies), both MCs are half-Asian and there are a bunch of queer characters as well. It read very natural too me, nothing felt force or out of place.

The greatest strength of the story for me was the idea of finding a balance in your life and making a relationship work despite the odds. Both Lily and Tobin need to put in the work to overcome their personal issues. Being together was no miracle cure though it did put things in perspective for both of them.

I admit to liking him a tiny bit more than her, she came off more closed off. His whole storyline was richer, more developed than hers imo. I appreciate the way his creative block was presented and his struggles to admit it and finally deal with it. He prioritized his mental health over work/fame/success and that is a such a powerful message to me.

my only complaint is that the ending was too neat, all issues were resolved in more or less fairytale manner. There are also some stereotypical representations in the story that could have been avoided. Still, overall I enjoyed this book a lot and can highly recommend it.

CW: undiagnosed ADHD, burnout

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BDSM

Review: Seducing the Sorcerer by Lee Welch

02:30

Title: Seducing the Sorcerer
Author: Lee Welch
Genre / Themes: Fantasy romance / m/m romance 

Release date: 23 Sept 2021

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Facebook

My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb

Homeless and jobless, Fenn Todd has nearly run out of hope. All he has left is his longing for horses and the strength of his own two hands. But when he’s cheated into accepting a very ugly sackcloth horse, he’s catapulted into a world of magic, politics and desire.

Fenn’s invited to stay at the black tower, home of the most terrifying man in the realm: Morgrim, the court sorcerer. Morgrim has a reputation as a scheming villain, but he seems surprisingly charming—and sexy—and Fenn falls hard for him.

However, nothing is as it seems and everyone at the tower is lying about something. Beset by evil hexes, violent political intrigue and a horse that eats eiderdowns, Fenn must make the hardest choices of his life.

Can a plain man like Fenn ever find true love with a scheming sorcerer?


Review

This is a new-to-me author and I am happy a took a chance on her. This book turned out to be exactly what I needed at the moment - fantasy romance with older MCs, very real despite the magic.

I liked the fantasy setting and found it to be engaging without being too complicated or overwhelming which is sometimes the case for me in fantasy/paranormal romances.

The story is told from Fenn's POV and I loved his voice. A common man in his early forties, he has been trough some hard times, he is a bit rough around the edges but he is not jaded or cynical. There is inherent kindness and empathy in him that loved. His passion for horses is a thing of beauty, it's contagious and reminded me how great it can feel to be this passionate about something, the utter joy it can bring. I also appreciate how ordinary Fenn was, he was no soldier/courtier or hero, he just loved Morgrim and wanted him to be safe and well.

I was fully sold on the romance, despite not liking Morgrim, the sorcerer, nearly as much as Fenn. I could see how he was all lonely and vulnerable behind the mask of the great court sorcerer, but somehow he read/sounded more juvenile than a man in his 40s. I might be harsh in my judgement but him keeping all these secrets all the time, playing his political games with Fenn even after they got together, didn't help his case.

The romance itself was lovely - light BDSM elements and role play coupled with deep feels and explicit consent was a winning combination. What was an interesting twist in the romantic relationship was the potential for their magic to influence their feelings for one another. It added further tension to the romance which kept recurring in different forms till the end. Sometimes it worked better for me, other times it felt forced and out of place. Overall, I quite enjoyed their romantic journey

A fairytale ending that fitted the fairytale vibe of the whole book - love conquers all, the good guys won and the bad guys got what they deserved.

This has been a great escapist fun - a bit magical, a bit real - very charming and a pleasure to read.

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China

Review: She Who Became the Sun

02:30

Title: She Who Became the Sun 
(The Radiant Emperor #1)
Author: Shelley Parker-Chan
Genre / Themes: Historical fantasy / China / Gender  

Release date: 20 July 2021

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Instagram 

My rating: 3 Stars

Blurb 

“I refuse to be nothing…”

In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.

When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother's identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.

After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother's abandoned greatness.

Review 



It's difficult for me to review this book. It's one of my most anticipated fantasy releases of 2021 because of the hype and the interesting premise. In the end I didn't work so well for me, I loved some things about it but also others bothered me. It's a moving story, unforgettable and thought provoking, days after finishing it, I am still thinking about it and processing it.

I would describe this book as historical fantasy with a lot of emphasis on battles and military tactics. The fantasy element is barely there in the first half and though it gains more attention in the second half, it still felt weak and underdeveloped to me.

On the plus side, I was intrigued by the leading characters of Zhu and Ouyang. Their parallel stories worked great to highlight their similarities and differences. One the strongest elements of the story is the exploration of gender identity and stereotypes and perception by society. I liked how the issues of appearance, perception were treated with care and understanding. It was process for Zhu - discovering who she is and accepting her fate/body/desire. For Ouyang, who is her opposite in a way, but also similar - his hatred of himself, the way other have made him be - it was there from the start and didn't really change but I felt it made sense.

I liked Zhu initially. Seeing her grow into herself, her determination, will to live and tenacity was something I admired. Towards the end though, I felt her desire for greatness became all-consuming, selfish. The whole idea of achieving greatness at any cost didn't sit well with me at all. It made her harder, cynical, unsympathetic in my eyes and could no longer root for her.

Another aspect of my disappointment with her is the way she treated Ma. She claimed she needed Ma's ability to care for others, her empathy and open-heartness, to balance Zhu's more cynical nature. At the same time Zhu never did listened to Ma, never took her advice and despite loving her she kept hurting her.

The overall progression of the plot and the manner of story-telling fell off to me. The pacing was even with long stretches of nothing important happening and then sudden burst of actions (often military action or other kind of violence). There are multiple POVs which on theory would make the story richer, but they made it messy instead. They were not as well developed as Zhu or Ouyang POVs and I was often wanted to skip them to return to Zhu or Ouyang.

There is probably a lot more to be said about this book - Ouyang and Essen relationship was fascinating and tragic; Lord Wang was an interesting character and wanted to see more of him; there is a child murder (off page) that still can't over; the power (and lack of) of women was also central in the story.

Overall, this a dark historical fantasy with lots of violence and flawed characters. It was intriguing but ultimately not a hit for me.

CW: Author's note on Goodreads + violence, graphic sex

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