Fairytale retelling

Review: For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

04:23

Title: For the Wolf (Wilderwood #1)
Author: Hannah Whitten
Genre/Themes: Fantasy, Fairytale retelling, Romance
Release Date: 01 June 2021

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

My rating: 5 Stars


Blurb

The first daughter is for the Throne.

The second daughter is for the Wolf.

For fans of Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale comes a dark fantasy novel about a young woman who must be sacrificed to the legendary Wolf of the Wood to save her kingdom. But not all legends are true, and the Wolf isn't the only danger lurking in the Wilderwood.

As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose-to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he'll return the world's captured gods.

Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can't control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can't hurt those she loves. Again.

But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn't learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood-and her world-whole.

Review

This is a debut fantasy retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood and I greatly enjoyed it. I found the suspense plot intriguing, the world building was interesting and new-to-me (I haven't read anything like it before though I am sure it's not an entirely new concept, I just haven't read much SFF yet), the romance was understated but also worked great for me and found it fitting to the characters.

The story started a bit slowly for me but but the pace quickly picked up and I was eager to keep on reading. I liked the magic system, it was detailed and interesting, though quite bloody, mind you.

I loved how the story explored the power and abuse of religion and religious cult. The issues of free will and choice and loyalty were central in this story and I loved the author's takes on the,

Love is also an important element in this story - love between sisters, between a mother and her children, romantic love. We see how it can literally save you but also how it can destroy you.

I loved how the relationship between Red and the Wolf progressed, they were perfect for each other but they had to overcome so many difficulties before they got together.

Overall, this is an intriguing fantasy with romantic element, it's engaging, creepy but ultimately hopeful. The writing was brilliant and I am already excited for the next in the series which should come out next summer.

CW: sacrifice, self harm (cutting for magic purposes), violence, alcohol abuse, parental neglect, gore

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Historical Romance

Review: Subtle Blood by KJ Charles

02:30

Title: Subtle Blood (The Will Darling Adventures #3)
Author: KJ Charles
Genre/Themes: Historical, MM romance, Mystery
Release Date: 23 June 2021

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

My rating: 4 Stars

Blurb

Will Darling is all right. His business is doing well, and so is his illicit relationship with Kim Secretan--disgraced aristocrat, ex-spy, amateur book-dealer. It’s starting to feel like he’s got his life under control.

And then a brutal murder in a gentleman’s club plunges them back into the shadow world of crime, deception, and the power of privilege. Worse, it brings them up against Kim’s noble, hostile family, and his upper-class life where Will can never belong.

With old and new enemies against them, and secrets on every side, Will and Kim have to fight for each other harder than ever—or be torn apart for good.

Review


This is a great ending to a great series!

I absolutely loved the romantic aspect - following the ups and downs and Will and Kim's relationship, over 3 book has given me deep insight into it and love it. They are arguably my favourite KJ Charles' couple - opposites who complement each other perfectly and who learn how to be together through trial and error.

We see then build something genuine and long-lasting despite the lies and manipulation it started on. It's journey for both of them, time of change and growth, much of it forced by circumstances outside their control. It can be exciting but also scary, their hesitance, their trepidation felt natural, they both change and grow, each one dealing with their emotional baggage.

The suspense plot is engaging as always with KJ Charles' books. We have a strong focus on families here, in particular on Kim's truly awful family. We see entitlement in its worst, couple with greed and stupidity. It does not make a winning combination in the end though it sure causes enough havoc. suspense plot. Here is also my only niggle with the story, some of the main elements of the suspense plot and its resolution felt too similar to the previous book in the series. It made sense and felt organic, just a bit repetitive, we have already seen it play out.

Everything about Kim's family highlighted how previous Will and Kim's relationship is - the hard-earned trust in each other, the deep care and readiness to sacrifice oneself for the happiness of the other person - total opposite on the relations in Kim's family.

The declarations of love and commitment in this book are like no other and I loved them so much. We get to see both Will and Kim being vulnerable in their honesty. In this book it was Will who had to make the choice and do the things that scare him the most.

Overall, wonderful series, greatly recommended!

CW; violence, verbal abuse, homophobia, blackmail

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Erotic romance

Review: Neon Gods by Katee Robert

02:30

Title: Neon Gods (Dark Olympus #1)
Author: Katee Robert
Genre: Hades and Persephone retelling, erotic
Release Date: 1 June 2021

Author's links:

My rating: 3 Stars



Blurb

He was supposed to be a myth.
But from the moment I crossed the River Styx and fell under his dark spell…
…he was, quite simply, mine.

Society darling Persephone Dimitriou plans to flee the ultra-modern city of Olympus and start over far from the backstabbing politics of the Thirteen Houses. But all that’s ripped away when her mother ambushes her with an engagement to Zeus, the dangerous power behind their glittering city’s dark facade.

With no options left, Persephone flees to the forbidden undercity and makes a devil’s bargain with a man she once believed a myth...a man who awakens her to a world she never knew existed.

Hades has spent his life in the shadows, and he has no intention of stepping into the light. But when he finds that Persephone can offer a little slice of the revenge he’s spent years craving, it’s all the excuse he needs to help her—for a price. Yet every breathless night spent tangled together has given Hades a taste for Persephone, and he’ll go to war with Olympus itself to keep her close…

A modern retelling of Hades and Persephone that’s as sinful as it is sweet.

Review 

I picked this book for two reasons - it's Hades and Persephone retelling and a close friend highly recommended the author's Disney Villains series which I haven't read yet. While I enjoyed some elements of the story, in the end it was not what I expected and I was not wow-ed by it.

It's a modern day retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth told in first person present tense dual POV which didn't quite work for me. It made the MCs sound juvenile, spoilt and immature.

I found the first quarter really slow, too descriptive, while at the same time giving us very little insight into Persephone and her world. The world building was very superficial (we get more details .about Hades' world later on but Olympus remained sketchy and insubstantial to me till the end).

I did like the romantic and sexual relationship between Hades and Persephone. The way it progressed, the way their kink was presented - it all worked for me (from my outsider's perspective). I very much enjoyed the sense of play and joy involved in the kink representation and also appreciate being nervous and hesitant about trying new things. Here the consent played a central role, it was not just empty words, there is an actual moment of one MC changing their mind about something sexual they wanted and this was totally OK and respected by the other MC. It was these little moments of insecurity and uncertainty in Hades and Persephone that I liked the best. It made them feel real and relatable to me.

The last quarter of the story was very much action packed, lots of lies and deceptions happening, seeing more of the other characters, making them more than cardboards on the page. I liked the final resolution thought it felt a bit rushed. A pet peeve of mine is badly drawn villains and this was the case here which I found rather disappointing.

I am curious about the next book in the series about Eros and Psyche and still might read it despite really not liking the writing here.

CW: violence, attempted assault, murder, arson, 

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Contemporary Romance

Review: Totally Engaged by Mina V. Esguerra

02:02

Title: Totally Engaged (Six 32 Central #4)
Author: Mina V. Esguerra
Genre: Contemporary m/f romance, older MCs
Release Date: 14 May 2021

Author's links:

My rating: 4 Stars



Blurb

Rose Alban, 41, has been happily living alone and single in Manila. When her entire family moved to the US she became responsible for their house and since then she's transformed it into her home, her sanctuary, and base for a new and more fulfilling career. She was even able to convert the garage into a studio apartment, that she's now renting out to her friend's brother Pascal Cortes, 39, former MBA professor who's now heading operations at an exciting education startup at a nearby business district.

That's not enough for her mother and well-meaning relatives, who want nothing more than to see her join them in the US by any means necessary. When they surprise her with a visit, Rose knows the only way they'll finally stop plotting to get her a green card is if they see her settled down—so of course she asks the hot prof next door to pretend to be her fiancĂ©.

Review 

I love Mina V. Esguerra's writing and this series have been a hit for me in all aspects and this book was no different.

The story features two older MCs who slowly fall in love while they are faking an engagement. In the end they build a relationships that suits them both - no plans or marriage or desire for children.

The story also explores the unique immigration situation of the heroine, specific to the the Philippines, something that seriously affected her life and the choices she made. I loved the hopefulness, the way she made the best out of a difficult situation. We meet Rose when she is already settled in her life and happy with the things she has and we only get glimpses of her struggles before and I liked how confident and self-sufficient she was.

Things are very much the opposite for Pascal. He is 39 yo and at a crossroads in his life, just made a big career change and in the process of establishing himself anew both personally and professionally.

The romance was tender and sexy and full of kindness and care and mutual respect and support. Slowly their fake romance became real, they realise they have something good together that can work for them for now or for longer.

It's a high conflict story, there is some pressure from Rose's family but it is nothing major or dramatic, just normal, ordinary stuff of well-meaning parents who don't fully understand their kids.

We see the big juxtaposition of new modern romantic relations as opposed to the traditions and expectations of the older generations.

Like many of the author's other stories this one also explores the meaning of home, the sense of place and belonging, all this entangled with big, complicated families.

This is a warm hug of a book, tender and gentle, simply delightful.

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Alexis Hall

Review: Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall

02:30

Title: Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake 
Author: Alexis Hall
Genre/Themes: queer m/f romance, reality TV baking competition
Release Date: 18 May 2021

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

My rating: 4 Stars



Blurb

Following the recipe is the key to a successful bake. Rosaline Palmer has always lived by those rules—well, except for when she dropped out of college to raise her daughter, Amelie. Now, with a paycheck as useful as greaseproof paper and a house crumbling faster than biscuits in tea, she’s teetering on the edge of financial disaster. But where there’s a whisk there’s a way . . . and Rosaline has just landed a spot on the nation’s most beloved baking show.

Winning the prize money would give her daughter the life she deserves—and Rosaline is determined to stick to the instructions. However, more than collapsing trifles stand between Rosaline and sweet, sweet victory. Suave, well-educated, and parent-approved Alain Pope knows all the right moves to sweep her off her feet, but it’s shy electrician Harry Dobson who makes Rosaline question her long-held beliefs—about herself, her family, and her desires.

Rosaline fears falling for Harry is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. Yet as the competition—and the ovens—heat up, Rosaline starts to realize the most delicious bakes come from the heart.

Review

I love Alexis Hall's writing and this book was one of my most anticipated releases of 2021. It was not exactly what I expected it to be but after some frustration and adjustment of expectations around the middle, I ended up enjoying it a lot.

There is a sort of love triangle, rather it's three people that are mixed up in the romantic relations in the story. It's not something I intentionally look for in my romance but I felt it was fitted the characters and made sense in their character development. Rosaline is very close to my heart, I see a lot of me in her - somewhat neurotic, anxious, lacking confidence, questioning her parenting (incidentally I also have an 8yo daughter) and professional/life choices.

The story has strong women's fiction vibes, since it focuses mainly on Rosaline and her efforts to find the right direction in her life. Romantic relationships are a big part of it but we also see her professional development, the messed up relations with her family.

The nods to GBBO were fun to read. Here is where I admit that I haven't watched the full show, mostly know it from gifs and that one-time Bulgarian edition. Still, I loved seeing reality TV for what it is - fun and entertainment but also meticulously scripted and edited.

I love how real and fully developed all characters in Alexis Hall's stories read to me, and not just the MCs, but the secondary characters as well. They are all, even the evil ones, different, unique, each has a voice and presence of their own.

I hated Alain and Rosaline's parents right from the start. Alain's easy confidence, seeming perfection appeared attractive initially but it also put me on edge. I don't trust who never doubt themselves, who are always put together and in control. It makes me instantly suspicious that this a facade for something much less pretty.

That said, I understand Rosaline's attraction to him, he is everything she strives to be in her life (at least what her parents had taught her to want from life). Gradually though, we see her willfully ignoring the red flags about Alain that kept popping up. The whole setting on the set of a reality show and the extreme stress it put on her daily life led her to making some rushed decisions,

Harry, is Alain's opposite in every possible way, and while initially Rosaline only noticed him for his looks, gradually she got to know the real him and he is the absolute best. He is kind and understanding, genuinely cares about her and is always there when she needs him. At the same time he is also shy and anxious, a typical mate in many respects but also open and willing to learn to do better.

There is an attempted sexual assault and it's not graphic but the whole scene was very vivid, Rosaline's fear was palpable through the pages. The manipulation and gaslighting that went with it were rage inducing but also so, so familiar. It's a brilliant scene, though a tough one to read.

I really wanted Rosaline to to spend more time with Harry instead of Alain though ever ytime she was with Harry the connection between them was real and believable and the reverse was true of her interactions with Alain - you can see how hard she worked to convince herself this was what she wanted and it was good and right and making her happy while it was becoming clearer and clearer that this was not the case.

I like that this is not a love-at-first-sight romance. It takes Rosaline some time to see Harry, to realise there is potential for something between them, to allow herself to imagine a different future for herself.

I love how the story focuses on the the small things that make the big picture, how we change and grow, how it's ok to not know what you want, to not feel confident and assured all the time, to make mistakes and change one's mind. No one is perfect, no one has all the answers. Life is actually all about trial and error, finding and keeping the things and people that make you happy and fulfilled.

In short, this story is often hilarious while being serious at the same time, it creates a great sense of place, the storytelling is masterful and engaging as always. 

CW: teen pregnancy (in the past), discussion of abortion, casual queerphobia, attempted sexual attack, manipulation and gaslighting, neglectful and manipulative parents


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