Review: Keepsake by Sarina Bowen


Title: Keepsake (True North #3)
Author: Sarina Bowen
Genre: Contemporary romance, Small-town
Release Date: 25 Oct 2016

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My rating: 5 Stars


There's a first time for everything.

Lark Wainwright used to be fearless. Her life was a series of adventures, each one more exhilarating than the last. But her recent overseas adventure was one too many. Now she’s home and in one piece. Mostly. But her nights are filled with terror.

When her best friend offers her a stay at the orchard in exchange for help at the farmers’ markets, Lark jumps at the chance to spend fall in Vermont. But her nightmares don’t stop. Desperate to keep her fragile state a secret, she relies on the most soft-spoken resident of the Shipley Farm to soothe her when her dreams prove too much.

Zachariah is a survivor, too. It’s been four years since he was tossed aside by the polygamist cult where he grew up. He’s found a peaceful existence on the Shipley’s farm, picking apples and fixing machinery. But getting thrown away by your own people at nineteen leaves a mark on a guy. He doesn’t always know what to make of a world where movie quotes are the primary means of communication. Before hitchhiking to Vermont, he’d never watched TV or spoken on the phone.

Actually, there are a lot of things he’s never done.

Zach and Lark slowly grow to trust one another. One night they become even closer than they’d planned. But Lark may still be too broken to trust anyone. When she pushes Zach away, he will have to prove to himself that he's good for much more than farm labor.


This is the third book in Sarina Bowen's True North series of small town romances set in Vermont and in it we return the Shipley's farm which was the setting of book 1.

While I was not a huge fan of Bittersweet and quite enjoyed Steadfast (Jude's story) and I absolutely loved Zachariah and Lark in Keepsake. We met Zach in the first book, and was taken with him right away - a virgin hero raised in cult, who was cast away and is now trying to make it in the world on his own. I couldn't wait to read more about him and his story delivered and then some.

Zach is as perfect as one can be while also being very real - hard working, hard loving, loyal and honest and all too good looking. It's easy to overdo his lack of knowledge of the real world and fall in the traps of presenting him as way too naive/sheltered. Luckily, this was not the case. Zach had missed iconic moments of history and lacked most of pop culture knowledge but he was not totally clueless about sex and sexual attraction and he has managed to fit in the world rather well.

He is a complex character who made mistakes but genuinely wanted to help, to be useful, to be needed and loved, such a universal human emotion. He had his own abandonment issues to deal with together with the feelings of doubt and insecurity of not being good enough.

And Lark was wonderful too. She was Zach's opposite in so many ways - world savvy, experienced but when they met she was lost and confused and lived in fear. Her issues and the consequences of her ordeal in Guatemala were far more serious that anyone thought. They all missed the signs of how shaken up she really was, she was good at hiding and pretending. Even with Zach. I appreciate how her PTSD was presented and treated as a serious issue, not downplayed or used just for thrills. love can't cure and can't solve all. It took a lot of effort and time but the end result made it worth it.

My only quibble is with the epilogue. While I love me a good epilogue, it felt superfluous here, didn't really add anything significant to the story. Still, it did hint at potential new stories in the series and I hope Sarina Bowen will get to write them. 

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Kobo / iBooks

Alexis Hall

Review: Pansies by Alexis Hall


Title: Pansies (Spires Universe)
Author: Alexis Hall
Genre/Themes: Romance, MM, Bullying, Grieving
Release Date: 10 Oct 2016

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My Rating: 4.5 Stars


Alfie Bell is . . . fine. He’s got a six-figure salary, a penthouse in Canary Wharf, the car he swore he’d buy when he was eighteen, and a bunch of fancy London friends.

It’s rough, though, going back to South Shields now that they all know he’s a fully paid-up pansy. It’s the last place he’s expecting to pull. But Fen’s gorgeous, with his pink-tipped hair and hipster glasses, full of the sort of courage Alfie’s never had. It should be a one-night thing, but Alfie’s never met anyone like Fen before.

Except he has. At school, when Alfie was everything he was supposed to be, and Fen was the stubborn little gay boy who wouldn’t keep his head down. And now it’s a proper mess: Fen might have slept with Alfie, but he’ll probably never forgive him, and Fen’s got all this other stuff going on anyway, with his mam and her flower shop and the life he left down south.

Alfie just wants to make it right. But how can he, when all they’ve got in common is the nowhere town they both ran away from.


It is really difficult for me to review Alexis Hall's books because they bring all the emotions in me and instead of being objective, my reviews become this rambling, incoherent fangirling. Still, I will try to make this review at least a little bit useful for potential reader beyond the simple and very insistent - Go read this book! It's fabulous! You won't regret it!

I really, really like this author's writing style - it's powerful in a quiet way, evocative, often reads like poetry and always speaks to me and moves me to tears both ones of joy and ones of hurt.

I love how multi-layered this story is - it's about grieving and bullying and family and identity, and ultimately about change and growth - your past experiences, both good and bad, become part of you, they shape the present you in one way or another. It's beautiful and sad, heart-breaking and optimistic, it brought tears to my eyes every couple of pages or so. It's not melodramatic, but it's even more powerful with its ordinariness. The hurt and pain and rejection and doubt that both Fen and Alfie go through feel real, normal, something that can happen to anyone.

I loved Fen, admired his strength to be himself, understood (I think) his sense of loss of identity and direction after his mother's death. But Alfie, oh Alfie was everything to me. His inner struggles to accept, or rather to discover who he really was, what he liked and wanted in life was heart-breaking. Not everyone figures out themselves and their dreams as a teenager. Being older and confused about yourself seems even harder because everybody expects the stage of confusion and figuring things out to be over.

One of the things I liked the most in the story was how conceptions about gender identity and sexuality were explored and myths about them were debunked. Ideas of masculinity and queerness were put to the test - liking musicals and flowers does not take away one's masculinity, wanting a long-term relationship and kids does not make one less/more straight or queer.

On that note I found some of the conversations between Fen and Alfie about labels and heteronormativity a bit awkward, as Alfie himself said ("I can't tell if it's hot or annoying that you talk like you're on the internet."). I really don't know if people have this type of conversations but it felt odd and too scripted to me.

The relationship with family, one's upbringing, especially in a small nowhere town was also a central element in the story. Seeing the people who love you actually hurting you the most by not being able/willing to understand/accept you was really painful to read. Even Fen's father who was Ok with Fen's queerness ended causing him so much pain. This particular plot development towards the end was my least favourite thing in the story. I felt there was no need for it here.

Pansies is beautifully told but also really painful to read at times. It offers yet another in-depth exploration of the complexities of human nature and relationships, just like the rest of the Spires series. If you are a fan of the author or just enjoy heartfelt contemporary romantic stories, I'd encourage you to give this one a try. 

PS: And now I just want Kitty's and Greg's stories too :)

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Kobo / Publisher

Contemporary Romance

Review: Documenting Light by EE Ottoman


Title: Documenting Light
Author: EE Ottoman
Date of publication: 31 Aug 2016
Genre / Themes: Contemporary romance / Trans characters

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My rating: 4.5 Stars


If you look for yourself in the past and see nothing, how do you know who you are? How do you know that you’re supposed to be here?

When Wyatt brings an unidentified photograph to the local historical society, he hopes staff historian Grayson will tell him more about the people in the picture. The subjects in the mysterious photograph sit side by side, their hands close but not touching. One is dark, the other fair. Both wear men’s suits.

Were they friends? Lovers? Business partners? Curiosity drives Grayson and Wyatt to dig deep for information, and the more they learn, the more they begin to wonder — about the photograph, and about themselves.

Grayson has lost his way. He misses the family and friends who anchored him before his transition and the confidence that drove him as a high-achieving graduate student. Wyatt lives in a similar limbo, caring for an ill mother, worrying about money, unsure how and when he might be able to express his nonbinary gender publicly. The growing attraction between Wyatt and Grayson is terrifying — and incredibly exciting.

As Grayson and Wyatt discover the power of love to provide them with safety and comfort in the present, they find new ways to write the unwritten history of their own lives and the lives of people like them. With sympathy and cutting insight, Ottoman offers a tour de force exploration of contemporary trans identity.


Oh, that was such a sweet and tender and heart-warming story! Everybody needs love and affection and a place in the world and they have the right to it, they deserve it and when get the chance to have it, it can be beautiful!

This book is an example of why I love reading in general and reading romance in particular, stories like this one are magical and they help us see and relate to each other as human beings regardless of the differences between us. 

The romance between Grayson and Wyatt is slow going, unassuming, it takes time to develop, all this making it real. There is a strong attraction but both of them are shy, a bit insecure, coming to terms with their own selves and being with another person did not come easily to either of them. Add to this some serious real-life family/professional issues they were dealing with and connecting with another person the way they did was both soothing and taxing on them. 

The need for human connection, for acceptance especially for marginalized people, though I really feel most people have this need and most of us feel marginalised in one way or another. I loved how understated this story was, just ordinary, yet special people, struggling to find their place in life. That desire not to be alone and to have someone by your side, someone you can share yourself with, it spoke to me so much. 

My only minor quibble is that at times the messages of the story came off as too strong to the point of being didactic. I liked the easy flow of the writing, though occasionally the unfolding of the story seemed too slow, falling too much into scientific discussion of historical research rather than following the characters on their journey towards happiness/fulfillment. 

I very much liked focus the author put on the everyday aspects of life - two people meet, fall in love and slowly mesh their lives together. There are awkward moments, and setbacks and both welcome and hurtful intrusions of family but ultimately it's a story of two people dealing with being trans who find the way to be a couple, to love themselves and each other. 

Purchase links: Amazon / Publisher / Kobo / B&N


Review: That Potent Alchemy by Tess Bowery


Title: That Potent Alchemy (Treading the Boards #3)
Author: Tess Bowery
Date of publication: 27 Sept 2016
Genre / Themes: Historical romance / Theatre / POC / Genderfluid character

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My rating: 4.5 Stars


Is his love her safe place to land…or just smoke and mirrors? 

Grace Owens danced her feet bloody to become the finest en pointe prodigy of her generation, but the only accolade she longed for—her father’s approval—never came. Finally, broken and defeated, she cut ties and fled to London to live life on her own terms.

Now, after four years as an actress in London’s smaller theatres, a last-minute production change lands her right where she never wanted to be again. Front and center in the ballet—and back in toe shoes.

From his perch on the catwalks, machinist and stagecraft illusionist Isaac Caird can’t take his eyes off Grace. A woman who wears men’s clothing, but not as a disguise. An exquisite beauty who doesn’t keep a lover. A skilled dancer who clearly hates every pirouette.

The perfect lines of her delicate body inspire him to create a new illusion—with her as the centerpiece—that will guarantee sold-out shows. Maybe even attract a royal’s patronage. But first he has to get her to look at him. And convince her the danger is minimal—especially within the circle of his arms.

Featuring a gender-fluid ballet dancer, an amateur chemist who only occasionally starts fires, and an old rivalry that could tear them apart.


This is my first book by Tess Bowery and I loved is so much that I immediately got the previous two as well. I first heard about this series through KJ Charles who gave them great praise and made me curious to try it and now I wonder why it took me so long to come to them. 

This is a mf Regency romance set in the London theater scene but it's not all about the glamour and the actors and actresses, but also about the people behind the scene who make the magic on stage happen. I found it refreshing and really interesting to get a glimpse of the live of "ordinary"and, well, not so ordinary people in Regency London. 

Another element that sets this story apart from most historical romaines in that both hero and heroine are people of colour and race issues feature somewhat prominently in the story. That and gender identity issues. All this was explored in a plot involving some magic stage effects, one bet and some secret plans being stolen and it made one intriguing, tender and real love story.

I liked the author's writing style, the story flowed smoothly and there is a neat balance between the intensity of the romantic plot and intrigue of the suspense plot.

Both main characters, Grace and Isaac were outstanding. He reads a beta to me, something not represented often enough in romance and I (and Grace) found him completely irresistible. He is caring and loving and persistent without coming off of domineering or patronising. He is fascinated by Grace and absolutely open to being with her on her own terms. I loved his reaction to her uniqueness, his willingness to try new things, meet the challenges she posed, it all built the ground for the intimacy she so feared, yet craved.

As I said Grace is unique in many ways, an actress, a ballet dancer, and overall amazing, extra-ordinary human being. I found her fascinating and I loved the way the author presented her gender-fluid nature - the doubts and fears, the determination to be true to oneself, the courage it took to share this with a lover. It was interesting and beautiful though I think there was room for more in-depth exploration of this issue.

This is a very character focused story and it had everything I love in a good romance - initial hesitation, slow getting to know each other which leads to moments of tenderness and true intimacy. The romance followed the gradual growth of mutual attraction into love and desire to share one's life with the that special other person.

It short, this is a wonderful historical romance done with a lot of thought and care about the details. Definitely a recommended read!

Purchase links: Amazon / B&N / Kobo / iBooks


Review: The Trouble with Mistletoe by Jill Shalvis


Title: The Trouble with Mistletoe (Heartbreaker Bay #2)
Author: Jill Shalvis
Date of publication: 27  Sept 2016
Genre / Themes: Romance / Small town / Animals /Christmas

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads
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My rating: 4 Stars


If she has her way ...
Willa Davis is wrangling puppies when Keane Winters stalks into her pet shop with frustration in his chocolate-brown eyes and a pink bedazzled cat carrier in his hand. He needs a kitty sitter, stat. But the last thing Willa needs is to rescue a guy who doesn’t even remember her ...
He’ll get nothing but coal in his stocking.

Saddled with his great-aunt’s Feline from Hell, Keane is desperate to leave her in someone else’s capable hands. But in spite of the fact that he’s sure he’s never seen the drop-dead-gorgeous pet shop owner before, she seems to be mad at him ...
Unless he tempers “naughty” with a special kind of nice ...

Willa can’t deny that Keane’s changed since high school: he’s less arrogant, for one thing—but can she trust him not to break her heart again? It’s time to throw a coin in the fountain, make a Christmas wish—and let the mistletoe do its work ...


Jill Shalvis is my favourite author when it comes to sweet and sexy small town romances. And her Holiday stories always leave me at a happy place. This one was no different.

I still need to read the first book this new series but starting with the second one was no mistake either. It was so much fun and full of all the warm feeling and cosiness and friendship and the good of humanity in general that I associate with Christmas time. What made me really happy about this story that it did use the Christmas theme (strongly and with a touch of humour) without overdoing it. We don't get the perfect happy biological family but rather the right circle of friends and loved one who stick for one another through bad times and good ones and make the Holidays really special.

The heroine, Willa, was just adorable. Quirky and insecure, dealing with the consequences of a rough childhood by caring for everybody (humans and animals alike), going out of her way to help others, to bring joy and happiness in their lives.

The hero, Keane, like all Ms Shalvis' heroes, was close to perfect. He did have to make up for past mistakes but his present behaviour more than compensated for his carelessness in the past. He is working man and despite having a family unlike Willa. he was just as lonely as her.

I loved the character growth both of them had to go through in the story. There was a sort of reversal of roles which I found refreshing. She started as someone looking for love and long-term commitment while he was convinced he was no relationship material. Somehow along the road she ended up with doubts about her ability to be with someone for the long haul (she did think she wasn't good enough and that made me so sad) and he developed the idea that building a home with her and spending his life here with her was the right thing for him.

The chemistry between Willa and Keane was great and the love scenes - smoking hot. There was the usual circle of great friends (hers in this case) and their interactions both playful and concerned - were nicely done and fun to read.

There will more books in the series coming soon - a novella, One Snowy Night by the end of 2016 and a full-length novel, Accidentally on Purpose, early 2017 and I can't wait to read them both.

Purchase links: Kindle / iBooks / Nook / Paperback / GooglePlay / Kobo / BAM

Contemporary Romance

Review: Sparking the Fire by Kate Meader


Title: Sparking the Fire (Hot in Chicago #3)
Author: Kate Meader
Date of publication: 27 Sept 2016
Genre/themes: Contemporary romance, firefighters, Hollywood

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


Actor Molly Cade, America’s fallen sweetheart, finally has her shot at a Hollywood comeback with a dramatic new role as a tough-as-nails firefighter that promises to propel her back to the big time and restore her self-respect.

Wyatt Fox, resident daredevil at Engine Co. 6, needs a low-key job to keep him busy while he recovers from his latest rescue stunt. Consulting on a local movie shoot should add just enough spark to his day. Especially when in struts Molly Cade: the woman who worked his heart over good, and then left him in the Windy City dust.

Their story is straight out of a script: irrepressible, spunky heroine meets taciturn, smoldering hero. But these two refuse to be typecast, and when the embers of an old love are stoked, someone is bound to get burned


This is my first book by this author. It's book 4 in the series and reading the previous ones can probably make the enjoyment of this one even bigger, but I quite liked it just the same.

It is a very lively, fast-paced romance with a great cast of supporting characters. The prologue was stunning - sizzling hot and mysterious, the perfect lead into what is to come in terms of romance in this story.

I have to admit that Hollywood romances don't always work for me. Often I find them too far fetched to feel real/plausible. This one had some of that, but it was mostly fun, and sexy with just a touch of drama. And it had Wyatt, who was such a joy to read - alpha, broody and silent, simply irresistible.

Molly was interesting too, she came off as independent and strong, but at the same time she often acts like a diva - spoiled and demanding, careless of what other people's needs and desires. 

What started as playful and carefree five years ago, became much more serious and meaningful for both characters at the present moment. Yet, it was nearly impossible for them to actually be together and all the drama ensued. It was good that they loyal (and absolutely hilarious) friends and siblings interfered to 'help' them.

On the plus side, I loved the romance and the strong chemistry between Wyatt and Molly, the way they tried to resist the attraction between them in order not the hurt the other one, and the way they succumbed to their desires and made their relationship work and be beneficial for everybody.

On the flip side, I have to say that some of the jokes fell flat and sometimes I felt the writing dissolved in a colloquial style that did not fit the story. Some overused cliches took away some of my enjoyment of the story but overall, it was rather good, very sexy contemporary romance.

Purchase links: KINDLE | NOOK | IBOOKS | KOBO

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