Gilded Age

Review: The Prince of Broadway by Joanna Shupe


Title: The Prince of Broadway(Uptown Girls #2)
Author: Joanna Shupe
Date of publication: 30 Dec 2019
Genre: Historical romance, Gilded Age
Author links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads

My rating: 3 Stars


He lives in the shadows...

As the owner of the city's most exclusive casino, Clayton Madden holds the fortunes of prominent families in the palms of his hands every night. There is one particular family he burns to ruin, however, one that has escaped his grasp... until now. 

She is society's darling... 

Florence Greene is no one's fool. She knows Clayton Madden is using her to ruin her prestigious family... and she's using him right back. She plans to learn all she can from the mysterious casino owner—then open a casino of her own just for women. 

With revenge on his mind, Clay agrees to mentor Florence. However, she soon proves more adept—and more alluring—than Clay bargained for. When his plans are threatened, Clay must decide if he is willing to gamble his empire on love.


I loved the Gilded Age are New York Joanna Shupe creates in her books and had high expectations of this one. I liked it OK but I never quite warmed to the heroine's dream of opening a women’s only casino presented as a safe place.

I liked the hero, understood the reasons for his behaviour and desire for revenge. Overall, I found him relatable and appealing - silent, broody and intimidating, determined to achieve success, led moistly by desire for revenge only to find it carries little comfort when you lose the one person that makes you happy. 

The heroine, ion the other hand, I didn’t like her much. I liked her drive for independence, her free spirit but at the same time I was uncomfortable with the message of gambling as empowering for women. All through the story I kept thinking gambling is an addiction and the success of a casino is based on the patrons losing, being more of less cheated of their money (it was very explicitly said in the text). I realise what she did was aimed at wealthy ladies as a form of entertainment but I kept thinking how many poor people are drawn to gambling as an easy way to win money, only to end up losing everything. 

I found her risk-taking too much, bordering on reckless, putting herself in danger only to achieve what she wants. There was also childish disobedience on her part that I didn't like much. 

That said, I liked the romance, liked them as a couple, liked the way her (and his) relationship with her family developed in the end. I got the first book in the series which was on sale and I still plan on reading it, maybe not just right way though.

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Contemporary Romance

Review: Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn


Title: Love Lettering 
Author: Kate Clayborn
Date of publication: 31 Dec 2019
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Author's Links: Goodreads / Website / Twitter

My rating: 3 stars


Meg Mackworth’s hand-lettering skill has made her famous as the Planner of Park Slope, designing beautiful custom journals for New York City’s elite. She has another skill too: reading signs that other people miss. Like the time she sat across from Reid Sutherland and his gorgeous fiancĂ©e, and knew their upcoming marriage was doomed to fail. Weaving a secret word into their wedding program was a little unprofessional, but she was sure no one else would spot it. She hadn’t counted on sharp-eyed, pattern-obsessed Reid . . .

A year later, Reid has tracked Meg down to find out—before he leaves New York for good—how she knew that his meticulously planned future was about to implode. But with a looming deadline, a fractured friendship, and a bad case of creative block, Meg doesn’t have time for Reid’s questions—unless he can help her find her missing inspiration. As they gradually open up to each other about their lives, work, and regrets, both try to ignore the fact that their unlikely connection is growing deeper. But the signs are there—irresistible, indisputable, urging Meg to heed the messages Reid is sending her, before it’s too late . . .


It pains me to write this review, I expected to love this book as much as i have loved all of the previous books of Kate Clayborn but this one didn't quite work for me and this made me sad. I have mixed feelings, loved the first half, was confused and unhappy with the second half, so my rating is 3 stars overall.

I will start with the good - lovely, engaging writing, deep first-person POV, great rep of an young woman finding her place personally and professionally in the big city. I loved seeing so much her professional life and how it shapes/reflects who she is. Much of the first half of he story is focused almost completely on Meg and it reads a lot like women’s fiction. 

Reid, unlike Meg, remained mysterious and unfamiliar to the reader until late in the novel. We were getting to know him slowly and we saw a shy and somewhat awkward guy, not very open about himself and his job. 

I loved the idea of the games they played and how the whole games things featured in the story. I also very much liked that we so much of Meg's and Reid's relationships with other people - family, friends, colleagues, clients. They all served to reveal more of their character. 

The romance itself was slow burn, starting with a tentative emotional connection, gradually building up to intimacy. I appreciate the scene with her period which we rarely see in romance, and how supporting and understanding of her discomfort during her period.

I was not very happy with the first sex scene and the implication that he is given her the best experience she has ever had. It had these strong not-like-other men vibes, presenting her as someone which either picked only the wrong guys before or didn't know/care much of her own desire and pleasure, either of which is not flattering to her. At the same time I do appreciate the openness in discussing their desires and preferences. 

The second half had a completely different vibe, more dynamic, full of action/things happening, verging on too much drama. Reid lying to her and thus putting her whole career in danger was a huge issue, not an unforgivable one but I feel he didn't grovel nearly enough and she forgave him far too easily. I wanted her to be angry with him, to fight with him (something we have seen her learning to do through the story btw), instead she was angry for a minute or so and then she was worried, concerned and ultimately reading his letter, showing full understanding of his thinking and actions, and forgiving him. His apology/explanation with a letter might appear as tender, romantic gesture but I felt like a cope-out to me, stealing her chance to express her POV. It was all unilateral and she just accepted it and they moved on. 

I am happy that things worked out in the end and that Meg an Reid ended together but I didn't like how the main conflict was handled.

Overall, this is a very difficult book for me to review, it had some great elements, i loved bits of it so much but also i was angry and disappointed with other bits. The different tone and pacing of the first and second half made me feel like i was reading two different books,  the first one being far superior to the second one. 

I still absolutely love Kate Clayborn’s writing, the amazing female MCs she creates and despite this story not working for me the way I expected, I am still looking forward to reading more by this author.

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Contemporary Romance

Review: The One for You by Roni Loren


Title: The One For You 
(The Ones Who Got Away #4)
Author: Roni Loren
Date of publication: 31 Dec 2019
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Author's links:
My rating: 3 Stars


She got a second chance at life.
Will she take a second chance at love?

Kincaid Breslin wasn't supposed to survive that fateful night at Long Acre when so many died, including her boyfriend—but survive she did. She doesn't know why she got that chance, but now she takes life by the horns and doesn't let anybody stand in her way

Ashton Isaacs was her best friend when disaster struck all those years ago, but he chose to run as far away as he could. Now fate has brought him back to town, and Ash doesn't know how to cope with his feelings for Kincaid and his grief over their lost friendship. For Ash has been carrying secrets, and he knows that once Kincaid learns the truth, he'll lose any chance he might have had with the only woman he's ever loved.


I have enjoyed the previous books in the series a lot and this was one of my most anticipated releases of 2019. Maybe because of the high standards set by the previous books and my own very high expectations, this story didn’t work quite well for me. I’m happy Kincaid got her HEA but little details here and there in the story bothered me and in the end made it just an Okay read for me.

Kincaid was awesome in the previous books and we see a lot  of that up-beat, no-regrets attitude of hers here. At the same time we see her vulnerability, the trauma she survived on top of a difficult childhood has left deep marks on her.

I liked Ash, I liked him as a teenager and as an adult. I understood why he left, I could relate to his insecurity and his pining for Kincaid. But and this is a big BUT, as the story developed I found his behaviour in the past more and more not-OK. He helped his friend but he essentially lied to Kincaid and it didn’t sit well with me. He kept too many secrets from her and this is not how one acts with their best friend / crush. 

One of the big issues for me in the story was the way Graham was made to be the bad guy. I found it disingenuous and unnecessary. He is not here to defend / explain his behaviour, the whole change from a loving, supporting relationship (it has been like that in the memories of Kincaid  for years) into a potentially abuse, controlling one came of the blue and I didn't buy it. Don't get me into the whole aspect of keeping it all a secret from his parents, even all those years later. I don't know what the right approach is for such a complicated situation but the one taken by the author bothered me and made me sad and unhappy. 

This story has a direct retelling of the shooting which was difficult for me to read and I feel it should been explicitly mentioned in the CWs of this book. 

On the plus side, I liked how Kincaid went after her dreams, even though she was scared and convinced she was making a mistake. I liked how Ash helped her and supported her. I didn’t like that she lost her job the way she did and it bothered me the message it sends how fragile one’s reputation is, how women get very real consequences of mis-judging men.

While I loved seeing the orther couples and catching up on their HEAs, the ending was a bit over the top for me. It gave closure to the whole series but all there was to much drama and one too many grand gestures. It's a dream-like, fantasy ending which is all nice and heart-warming but still I prefer the realness and sense of down-to-earth I got from the previous books. 

CW: school shooting, child abuse, domestic violence, panic attack

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Penny Reid

Review: Beard Necessities by Penny Reid


Title: Beard Necessities (Winston Brothers #7)
Author: Penny Reid
Publication Date: 4 Nov 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Humor, Romance

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

My rating: 3.5 Stars


Billy Winston’s family is going to see him happy and in love if it’s the last thing they do.

No one deserves a happily-ever-after quite as much as the second oldest Winston brother and his lady love, Claire McClure (aka Scarlet St. Claire). Cruelty and circumstance tore them apart almost twenty years ago. Secrecy and bitterness kept them separated.

But you know who's tired of their separation and stubbornness? Everyone. Especially Billy Winston’s family. And now they're going to do something about it.

Well-meaning interference means the star-crossed lovers can’t stop tripping over each other in the hills of Tuscany, the catacombs of Rome, and the waterways of Venice. Billy and Claire find themselves thrown together and at the mercy of the Winston siblings’ shenanigans.

But will their forced proximity bring them together? Or push them even further apart?

This second-chance romance brings back the entire Winston gang, playing cupid in one last story of love, hi-jinks, and family collusion.


This is the conclusion of a beloved series and I was eager to read it but I ended with mixed feelings about it. There was some happiness but also sadness, some things worked great for me, others were annoying and I found them to be too much. It's how I feel about the series overall, some books have been amazing, other - just OK. It's been quite a rider and I mostly remain with fond memories of the Winston family and their partners in life.

I think these series all over should be approached with a specific mindset - it's a series of romances set in a small town in Tennessee, these are all het stories with some ethnically diverse characters, an MC gang, hillbilly shenanigans and their uniting motif is finding love and how the right person for you is not always the one you expect it to be.

Billy and Scarlet’s story is the most dramatic by far. The prequel with them falling in love for the first time as teenagers and being separated because of some horrific events in their lives - was heart-breaking and very emotionally intense, setting the stage of their eventual coming together years later.

I liked the idea of his family helping them get together but felt it was overdone, too much contrived encounters, too much pressure, not enough free will of Billy and Scarlet talking things through, and they did have a lot of things to discuss, to confess, to accept and move on in their live.

I had some issues with the plot, which at this point of my reading Penny Reid’s books, I’d say is a recurring feature in her romances - a weak plot, lots of forced elements just there to further the plot - eavesdropping on other people’s conversation (a plot device, I hate), too many secrets that are bound to come to light. I didn't like how Billy and Claire kept going back and forth in their relationship, they were acting like teenagers a lot of the time and the lack of communication was the main source of the conflict between them.

I appreciate that their past was told in retrospect and we didn't witness first-hand the abuse she suffered, the struggles they both had through with their own desires and conscience.

I was bothered with the way her dead husband was painted as the villain (he very much was one and we saw the beginning of that in the previous book). I absolutely understand how abusive and terrible he had been to her but still didn’t like that him being already dead, we couldn't see his point, it was just too convenient to show Billy as the awesome guy he was, a complete opposite of him.

In the end, the story has the loveliest epilogue where we see all the families together. I loved seeing how they all managed to rebuild their lives after the horrific events in their childhood and teen years.

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Jessie Mihalik

Review: Polaris Rising and Aurora Blazing by Jessie Mihalik


Title: Polaris Rising (Consortium rebellion #1)
Author: Jessie Mihalik
Publication Date: 5 Feb 2019
Genres: Sci-Fi Romance

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

My rating: 3 Stars


A space princess on the run and a notorious outlaw soldier become unlikely allies in this imaginative, sexy space opera adventure—the first in an exciting science fiction trilogy.

In the far distant future, the universe is officially ruled by the Royal Consortium, but the High Councillors, the heads of the three High Houses, wield the true power. As the fifth of six children, Ada von Hasenberg has no authority; her only value to her High House is as a pawn in a political marriage. When her father arranges for her to wed a noble from House Rockhurst, a man she neither wants nor loves, Ada seizes control of her own destiny. The spirited princess flees before the betrothal ceremony and disappears among the stars.

Ada eluded her father’s forces for two years, but now her luck has run out. To ensure she cannot escape again, the fiery princess is thrown into a prison cell with Marcus Loch. Known as the Devil of Fornax Zero, Loch is rumored to have killed his entire chain of command during the Fornax Rebellion, and the Consortium wants his head.

When the ship returning them to Earth is attacked by a battle cruiser from rival House Rockhurst, Ada realizes that if her jilted fiancĂ© captures her, she’ll become a political prisoner and a liability to her House. Her only hope is to strike a deal with the dangerous fugitive: a fortune if he helps her escape.

But when you make a deal with an irresistibly attractive Devil, you may lose more than you bargained for . . .


I read those sci-fi romance one right after the other and decided to do a joint review.

I loved the sci-fi element, the world building was elaborate and intriguing, there was lots of court politics and drama and backstabbing. MCs had grweat chemistry and I absolutely bought their HEA but overall I felt the romance took a backseat to the suspense/adventure plot.

Loch is big silent hero, Ada is a strong independent heroine and they started as adversaries if not outright enemies but had to work together and initial lust between them gradually turned into a hard-earned trust and true intimacy. I appreciate how they were equal in many way despite how their different background and social position. They helped each other, rescued each other.

Loch had the best qualities of an alpha hero - loyal, protective but also respecting his partner and openly admiring her strength.

Ada is no damsel in distress waiting to be saved. She is very much her own saviour. Both were guarding their hearts and falling in love and opening up to each other was a pleasure to read.

This is a fun and exciting story, full of twists and turns, fast-paced, unpredictable.

There were great supporting characters, a lovely second romance plot. It provided a great set up fo rth next book.

I can recommend it to fans of sci-fi and romance readers who don't mind the love story coming second to the suspense for most of the book.

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Title: Aurora Blazing Consortium rebellion #2)
Author: Jessie Mihalik
Publication Date: 1 Oct 2019
Genres: Sci-Fi Romance

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

My rating: 3 Stars


Bianca von Hasenberg did her duty for High House von Hasenberg and ended up trapped in a terrible marriage. When her husband dies unexpectedly and leaves her a happy widow, she vows never to marry again. Instead, she uses her connections to save other young women. Information is power and Bianca has a network that would be the envy of the ’verse—if anyone knew about it. Bianca von Hasenberg did her duty for High House von Hasenberg and ended up trapped in a terrible marriage. When her husband dies unexpectedly and leaves her a happy widow, she vows never to marry again. Instead, she uses her connections to save other young women. Information is power and Bianca has a network that would be the envy of the ’verse—if anyone knew about it.

After an attack, Bianca’s oldest brother, the House von Hasenberg heir, disappears from Earth without a trace. Determined to find him, Bianca leaves against orders. When she refuses to return, her father sends Ian Bishop, the director of House von Hasenberg security, to haul her home like a recalcitrant child.

Bianca leads Ian on a merry chase across the universe, but when their paths finally collide, she persuades him that they would be far more successful at finding her brother if they worked together. She will do anything to save her sibling, even if it means spending time alone on a small ship with the handsome, infuriating man who once broke her heart.

As clues lead them deep into rival House Rockhurst territory, Bianca must decide if she can trust Ian with the one piece of information that could destroy her completely. . .


Book 1 made me super excited for Bianca's story and it indeed started great but just like with Ada's story, the romance plot lost track somewhere around the middle and the suspense/adventure took too much center stage for my liking. It's sort of enemies to lovers romance, again slow burn like the previous book in the series and while not as developed as I wanted it to be, I believed in the romance and their HEA.

On the good side, Bianca reminded me of Nalini Singh's psy characters but more human. My heart broke for her and the secret she had to keep from everyone and at the same time I was in absolute awe of her strength and resilience (very much like Ian when he allowed himself to admit it).

They had a complicated history between them - he rejected her once and her pride didn't let her seek his attentions again. At the same time his position as head of security for her family added further stress to their interactions. He felt responsible for keeping her safe but she hated that he saw her (only) as a damsel in distress. They bonded over their mission to save her brother and the walls they had built up around their hearts started crumbling down. I loved how their relationship showed a lot care for each other and also mutual respect for the abilities of the other person.

The suspense/adventure plot was brilliant and enjoyed it a lot. It was fast-paced, the tension was even higher than in book 1. We got deeper into the Houses politics, and I enjoyed the focus on the issues of trust - how to earn one's trust, how to keep it, a promise is a promise, a sense of duty and not letting down the people who trust and rely on you.

Sadly, I was disappointed by the ending. It felt rushed and left too many plot lines unresolved. I hope we will get our answers in the next book (about the third sister) but I still was completely satisfied with the ending here. 

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Review: The Gilded Cage by KJ Charles



Once upon a time a boy from a noble family fell in love with a girl from the gutter. It went as badly as you’d expect.

Seventeen years later, Susan Lazarus is a renowned detective, and Templeton Lane is a jewel thief. She’s tried to arrest him, and she’s tried to shoot him. They’ve never tried to talk.

Then Templeton is accused of a vicious double murder. Now there’s a manhunt out for him, the ports are watched, and even his best friends have turned their backs. If he can’t clear his name, he’ll hang.

There’s only one person in England who might help Templeton now...assuming she doesn’t want to kill him herself.


This is a queer m/f (heroine is bisexual) historical which is still relatively rare occurrence in romance. Unlike the first book in the series which didn't quite work for me, this one hit all my sweet spots and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a second chance romance, friends-to-enemies-to-lovers (again) with a strong mystery/suspense plot.

I loved both Susan and Templeton but she is outstanding. I liked she was unremarkable in appearanc and used that to her advantage to succeed in a male-dominated field. She was OK with her looks but to him was beautiful, perfect inside and outside. I loved how much he valued her strength and determination. 

Templeton was very much the kind of romance hero I like, he was big and strong but also aware how his size could be intimidating to women. He was a true gentle giant who wanted to do everything to please Susan and make her happy.

There is a light femdom element in their relationship, the desire to make your partner feel good, to serve, to be there for them. It started with both of them discussing and overcoming the mistakes they both made with respect to each other in the past. It was not so much about forgiveness but rather about accepting the past and moving one, appreciating the present and looking forward to a future together.

The story had a strong presence of found family (and a terrible bio one) which was glorious and supportive and everything one can wish for in a family/close circle of friends. 

The road towards HEA was not without obstacles but the ending was just perfect and felt right for both Susan (who was very anti-marriage) and for Templeton (who was pro marriage but more importantly, he was pro whatever made Susan happy). I liked that the end gave them the possibility for happiness with or without official marriage.

The book works as standalone though I would recommend reading at least An Unnatural Vice (where we meet Susan for the first time). 

CW: miscarraige (in the past), violence, murder investigation

Penny Reid

Review: Beard with Me by Penny Reid


Title: Beard with Me (Winston Brothers #6)
Author: Penny Reid
Publication Date: 16 Sept 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Humor, Romance

Author's links: WebsiteTwitterFacebookGoodreads

My rating: 4.5 Stars


‘Beard With Me’ is the origin story of Billy Winston and Scarlet St. Claire (aka Claire McClure) and is just the beginning of their epic love story.

No one is better at surviving than Scarlet St. Claire and making the best out of circumstances beyond her control is Scarlet’s specialty. In an apocalyptic situation, she’d be the last person on earth, hermitting like a pro, singing along to her CD Walkman, and dancing like no one is watching.

Scarlet is clever, Scarlet is careful, and Scarlet is smart . . . except when it comes to Billy Winston.

No one is better at fighting than Billy Winston and raging against his circumstances—because nothing is beyond his control—is Billy’s specialty. In an apocalyptic situation, he’d be the first person on earth to lead others to safety, overcome catastrophe, or die trying.

Billy is fearless, Billy is disciplined, and Billy is honorable . . . except when it comes to Scarlet St. Claire.


It’s the start of Claire (here Scarlet) and Billy’s epic love story. This takes us back in time when they were teenagers and their love did not have a happy ending then. 

I loved it, even though I had some issues with it. It’s moving, angsty, with the final 10% being particularly intense and making me cry the whole time I was reading them. 

It’s told from dual POV and paints a very dark picture of their teen years - we see them both working hard on making the best of a very difficult situation. All that happens in this book explains who they have become as adults.

I loved seeing more of Cletus too and his own growth and change. Billy was amazing despite the mistakes he made. It was all done following a deep desire to care for everyone, to help, to support, to keep the people he loved safe from harm. 

Claire is really young here, only 14 years of age. She has been through so much in life already and that’s has made her distrustful and cautious. I liked her voice and I felt deeply for everything she was going through. 

As regards the romance, it was all about the magic of first love - the confusion,the thrill and anticipation coupled with doubts and trepidation at facing something for the first time. I liked how they worked out through their feelings for each other, starting for distrust, going through friendship and care to love and desire to be together.

At the same time despite it being kisses only and there was nothing graphic, I was disturbed by the way others sexualised Scarlet and the very descriptions of her desires/reactions made me uncomfortable. It’s likely a me thing but it was there and I didn’t like it. I was particularly bothered by Ben’s behaviour though I believe I was meant to feel that way about him and I am not hopeful about his actions towards Scarlet in the future. 

Another thing that bothered me and I want to draw specific attention to it is the author’s casual attitude towards CWs expressed in the beginning of the book. I have been a fan of Penny Reid’s since she published her first book but I can’t overlook how dismissive she was about CWs. This book deals with some very heavy subject matter and I believe readers deserve information about that before starting the book. I will list my CWs in the end of my review. 

This is somewhat spoilerish but it's important for me to mention it: the pregnancy and miscarriage plot didn’t quite work for me. It felt just a plot device and didn’t fit seamlessly in the story.

The ending was very emotionally heavy, not only because the MCs don’t get together but rather because we leave them when their lives are in complete shambles. I love the insight this story gives into why the Winston brothers and their sister end up the way they are when we met them in their own books. 

CW: child abuse, cutting, violence, severe beating, accidental pregnancy and miscarriage, parental neglect, underage drinking 

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Alix E. Harrow

Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow


Title: The Ten Thousand Doors of January 
Author: Alix E. Harrow
Genre /Tropes: Portal fantasy with romantic elements
Release Date: 10 September 2019

Author's links:

My rating: 5 Stars


In the early 1900s, a young woman embarks on a fantastical journey of self-discovery after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.


What a thrilling adventure this book has been. It’s a debut full length novel for the author and a truly magical fantasy, engagingly written and it had a huge impact on me. 

It's a portal fantasy about exploring other worlds and finding your place in them. There is a moving side love story which I absolutely enjoyed, there are even two of them if you ask me. 

I don't want to go into details of the plot, so I will focus more on what I loved and how this book made me feel. 

January is such a great character, I loved seeing her grow and change and become her own person. There are lots of adventures, some dark undertones but no true horror elements. 

At the heart of it for me this is a powerful story about love and wandering and storytelling. I feel I like I have highlighted most of the book, so many passages spoke to my heart - about the power of the words, the importance of change, the sense of (not)-belonging, love - between partners, in the family, among friends. 

The first half was somewhat slow-paced, more about setting the stage and the second half was full of adventure and action. There were lots of twists and turns to plot and found myself unable to put the book down. 

The writing is exquisite, it made me cry and broke my heart but also made me happy and hopeful. And that epilogue, it’s a thing of beauty. 

CW (as per the author and my own interpretation of the text): Abuse - physical and psychological; manipulation; violence against animals; forced hospitalization in mental hospital; mind control; racism; sexism; self-harm imagery (without intent to self-harm); violence; colonialism.

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Contemporary Romance

Review: Undercover by Rebecca Crowley


Title: Undercover (London Phoenix #2)
Author: Rebecca Crowley
Genre /Tropes: Contemporary romance, journalist investigation
Release Date: 17 September 2019

Author's links:

My rating: 4 Stars


The assignment has a deadline, but does their relationship?

After almost ten years dodging bullets as a foreign correspondent, Asher Brody is struggling to find his place back in the U.K. – and in his family-run newspaper, the London Phoenix. He’s intent on proving he’s as committed as his brothers, even if it means putting on a suit and posh accent to investigate a high-ranking executive at an upscale retreat.

Ada Hunter wasted years trailing her ex-boyfriend, only for him to turn his back when her documentary career finally took off. Now she’s beating her own path, and it’s taking her all over the world. To secure funding for her next project, she takes a risky job with the Phoenix posing as broody-sexy Asher’s fake girlfriend – too good to be true.

They plan to spend a few days pretending to be a couple at a country estate before going their separate ways. But when bad weather strands them in the countryside, temptation develops into something more and the line between fantasy and reality becomes dangerously blurred. 


This is the second book in the London Phoenix series and I enjoyed it much more than the first book. I found the conflict more believable and really liked both MCs.

It starts pretty similarly to book 1 but this time the accidental hook-up was interrupted before it actually happened and led to some fake dating and surprise, surprise, love. 

There is an element of forced proximity in the romance and it worked really well for me. I liked how the MCs worked to get their goals and in the process helped each other.

Ada was pretty certain who she was, she had reasons not to want a relationship and to focus on her career at that time. Asher seemed to be at a different stage in his life, he wanted stability and permanence after years being a reporter in the field and after a painful break up with his ex. 

There was a reversal of the traditional roles here - the woman was confident and self-assured and didn't want a relationship; the man was having his doubts about who he was and what he wanted (a serious committed relationship, being settled in one place). He had to repeatedly remind himself that it was a fake relationship and they had a specific goal in mind, there was no room for feelings. 

The story reached a point where I knew one of them had to make a compromise and I wasn't sure who it would be and honestly, I didn't know whom I was rooting for to do it. I'm very happy with the ending where they found the right balance for things between them to work out in the long term. 

I liked the relationship between the three brothers, how they worked together in the newspaper and all the glimpses we got of them trying to be closer to each other, sticking together after the death of their mother, continuing some family traditions and establishing new ones of their own. 

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Alexis Hall

Review: Arden St. Ives series by Alexis Hall



I got an ARC of the final book in the series, so I binge read all three books in a week. What an emotional journey this has been. As usual I find myself lost for words when it comes to reviewing Alexis Hall’s books, so this won't be a very eloquent or coherent review, I'm afraid. I tend to have a very emotional reaction to his stories which makes my reviews more personal than usual.

On the surface and judging by the titles ans covers this is a billionaire m/m romance but the more I read the more I saw it as a story about two people with troubled pasts find their ways to each other. A bildungsromans of sorts for Ardy in particular, but very much for Caspian too.

The story is told exclusively from Ardy's POV and I loved the easy flow and multitude of things going on that made me eager to keep reading in order to find out how it will end.

Something, Alexis Hall does really, really well in my opinion is the creation of characters who feel real, human, with flaws and strengths. And this was very much the case here. It's not just Ardy and Caspian but almost every minor character was interesting and I got engaged in their stories. 

I found Ardy so easy to relate to - we see him navigating University, graduation, first serious job, making new friendships and keeping close the old ones, first attempt at a serious relationship. And the pressure there was not because Caspian was a billionaire, it was because of who Caspian is- a trauma survivour riddled with guilt and shame, refusing to accept his past, desperately trying to be someone different than who he is. 

It's a very emotional story both for Ardy and Caspian. Lots of mistakes get made and it's one of the things I particularly liked int he story. The way none of the characters are perfect and they don't always know the right thing to do/say but Ardy is very keen to listen and to learn, Caspian is more reluctant but still ready to make sincere apologies and amends for his mistakes. Even Nathaniel whom I got hate at some point despite understanding the terrible position he found himself to be, so even he is not malicious and only had the best intentions and is ready to admit he has been wrong/misguided in his approach to everything. 

I want to say a few words how trauma is handled in this series. It's not there for shock value or for tragedy p0rn, it's presented a complex issue that needs professional handling, one that affects the deepest corners of one's soul. There is no easy way to deal with it and no magic peen can cure it.

On that note, I am very happy to say that despite the heavy emoptional content of the books none of it due to queerphobia. The issues the characters deal with have nothing to do with them being gay. And the books are so effortlessly queer, it's a joy to read. No token marginalisation, no fetishising, lots of queer characters interacting in multitude of ways - as friends, lovers, in professional capacity. 

I also want to mention how much I loved Ardy's family and how important I found the episode with his biological father. It was disturbing but also very much needed to show a different aspect of Ardy's personality. We get a first-hand look at how powerful manipulation can be, how dangerous people like Ardy's father can be and how Ardy is noting like that.

Caspian and Ardy spent most of book 3 apart, they are both involved with other people, they cheat on them. It was a wild ride, I cried and laughed and wanted to hug them and make it all better for everyone. But I also see how they needed that time apart, how it was important for them to work through their issues on their own before trying to be together. Because we know they can be good together, we saw that already in the previous book.

All in all, I love how Alexis Hall takes apart the conventions of the romance genre and re-arranges them to come up with an unforgettable romance. It's nothing like I have read before, yet it's very much a tropey, swoon-worthy romance.

Just a couple of words on the supporting characters, Ellery, Bellerose, Nik, Nathaniel, George - they are all colourful and unique and give this richness and depth to the world of the books. The romance between Caspian and Ardy doesn't happen in isolation, like real people they are busy doing other things while falling in love.

One of the most loving episodes in the series for me involves Ardy taking care of Bellerose. It encapsulates everything good in this world (together with so much of the bad in it). It's about love and care in its purest form.

The trilogy ends with the sweetest epilogue, full of tenderness and promise. It's the beginning of a long process for Ardy and Caspian of learning how to be together and be happy. And it's why I read romance, for this ultimate moment of hope - love is possible, happiness is possible, the darkness can be defeated.

CW: Assault, sexual abuse (in the past). attempted rape, death of a parent (in the past), stalking and manipulation, drug use, car accident (secondary character), cheating, panic attacks, unprocessed trauma 

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Alix E. Harrow

First Paragraph Monday


This is not a regular feature but I just started a book with an awesome first paragraph that I just need to share. Here is the start of Ten Thousand Doors of January, debut fantasy with a dash of romance from what I hear, by Alix E. Harrow. And that cover, it's stunning, isn't it? 

When I was seven, I fond a door. I suspect I should capitalize that word, so you understand I'm not talking about garden-or common-variety door that leads reliably to a white-tiles kitchen or a bedroom closet. 

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Review: Playing House by Ruby Lang


Author: Ruby Lang
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance, architects/city planners
Release Date: 12 Aug 2019

Author links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads

My rating: 4 Stars


Romance blossoms between two city planners posing as newlyweds in this first in a bright new series by acclaimed author Ruby Lang

The last thing Oliver Huang expects to see on the historic Mount Morris home tour is longtime acquaintance Fay Liu bustling up and kissing him hello. He’s happy to playact being a couple to save her from a pushy admirer. Fay’s beautiful, successful and smart, and if he’s being honest, Oliver has always had a bit of a thing for her.

Maybe more than a bit.

Geeking out over architectural details is Oliver and Fay’s shared love language, and soon they’re touring pricey real estate across Upper Manhattan as the terribly faux but terribly charming couple Darling and Olly.

For the first time since being laid off from the job he loved, Oliver has something to look forward to. And for the first time since her divorce, Fay’s having fun.

Somewhere between the light-filled living rooms and spacious closets they’ve explored, this faux relationship just may have sparked some very real feelings. For Oliver and Fay, home truly is where their hearts are.


This s a delightful novella about two city planners re-building their lives and falling in love in the meantime. I have read the previous series by this author, Practice Perfect, and I really enjoy her voice and writing style - direct, somewhat abrupt but really fitting to the characters and the stories she tells. 

I liked both MCs here quite a lot. Fay had all the professional success but her personal life was in shambles as she was trying to navigate her it as a new divorcee. Oliver was in more fraught situation than her since he had neither personal, nor professional success (in his own eyes, at least). 

I liked how they got together, the pretense which gave them the freedom to be themselves and to do the things they wanted but under normal circumstances would be hesitant to try. I also love the personal growth they undergo, on their own and while being together. The conflict felt real and it forced them to re-evaluate a lot of things about themselves and what they want their lives to be in the future. 

The story had great secondary characters, Oliver's brother really stood out and I'd love to read his story some day. hey both have complicated relationships with their families.

As a minor drawback, the story was too short and last quarter felt rushed, I would have loved to see more of Fay and Oliver together, adjusting their lives to the new direction they chose for themselves. It feels especially relevant for him because he did make profound changes to his life/future plans.

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Things I Liked This Week


It's been a long, albeit slow week at work but we are experiencing a prolonged summer heat wave, that feels never-ending, so I have been all sweaty and irritable and it doesn't look like things will improve any time soon. 

Amidst the scorching heat that kills my ability to enjoy anything, I have found two videos I want to share with you in my semi-regular Things I Liked This Week post. 

First is this video of making mirrors, it' pretty mundane but for someone like me with not very good understanding of physics and chemistry, it looks fascinating, like a magic trick almost. I found it on pace Explorer make account on Twitter which is dedicate to space exploration and science. I don't don't know that much about either but find them interesting and a nice diversion from the pressure of everyday life, so I immediately followed that account, as one does :)

How Mirrors are Made

This video reminded me about another one which I saw last month, before I started this, and I wanted to share it here because it absolutely deserves it. It's a video of the Italian jewellery artist Pablo Cimadevilla making a gold ring. For those of my readers, my husband is a jeweller, and I have always loved jewellery but because of him I have become more interested in the hows and whys of making jewellery. It turns out that it's much more complicated than it appears on the surface. 

Making a gold butterfly ring: 

You can follow the artist on Facebook or Instagram for more of his work. 

Contemporary Romance

Review: Insider by Rebecca Crowley


Title: Insider (London Phoenix #1)
Author: Rebecca Crowley
Genre /Tropes: Contemporary romance, journalist investigation
Release Date: 22 August 2019

Author's links:

My rating: 3 Stars


ER doctor Grace Reilly thrives on patching up her patients, propping them back on their feet and sending them home healthier, yet emotionally she feels flat on her back after being deceived by her ex-boyfriend. She’s shelved her malfunctioning romantic radar, possibly forever. But she’s not opposed to no strings attached sex, especially when she meets the brooding and enigmatic Oren Brody. Even better? After giving her a mind-blowing orgasm with no reciprocal expectations, he vanishes as mysteriously as he appeared.

Six months ago Oren Brody and his brothers, Asher and Ebon, bought the London Phoenix newspaper to save the esteemed daily from bankruptcy. They need a big scoop or a budget shortfall could shut them down. A confidential tip about corruption and potential medical malfeasance points Oren toward St. Hilda’s Hospital – the same hospital where his mother unexpectedly died after a visit to the ER for a pounding headache. He needs answers, and Grace seems to be the key. He’d tracked her down hoping she could be a source. Seducing her was accidental, but he finds himself unable to ignore their zinging chemistry and he doesn’t really want to.

Oren needs to earn Grace’s trust, but that’s a big ask since their first meeting began with a lie and ended with sexual fireworks. Grace has already been deceived by one lover, can she forgive and forget and give Oren a chance? 


This is the first book in a new series, the heroine is an ER doctor, the hero - a journalist working to uncover corruption in the hospital where she works.

I would describe this as an explosive start of a new series. I love this author's football series (Atlanta Skyline), one of my favourite contemporary romances of all time. I had high expectations of this series but sadly, they were not quite met. This was a nice romance but ultimately unremarkable. I felt it lacked depth, the characters were underdeveloped and some of the conflict felt forced to me. it could be just that I have come to expect so much more from Rebecca Crowley, it all appeared  lackluster to me. 

Things start off with an off-the-charts anonymous hook up between the MCs which leads to initial distrust by both of them - neither being sure the other isn’t pursuing a hidden agenda. 

They each had their baggage and were reluctant to start a relationship but it all felt forced to me. There is an irresistible chemistry between them but I didn’t particularly like the vibe ‘not-like-other girls/guys’ I got throughout the story. There attraction and deep connection happened right away and I didn’t really buy it, there was nothing to show why they were so attracted to each. I could understand his reasons to some extend but felt she was overreacting and projecting her fears onto him till the very end.

The conflict of him lying/withholding information from her was quickly overcome and then when the black moment of their break-up happened, it felt completely out of place for me. Her reaction to something he did (rather didn’t do) seemed over-the-top and completely illogical. I never got fully invested in the characters and their issues. Both of them seemed melodramatic and their reactions didn’t appear genuine to me.

I was not really convinced their relationship will work out. There was nothing major wrong in their story, it was all minor details which didn’t work for me and in the end I was not sold on their HEA.

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Things I liked this week


Ok, I am back with Things I Liked This Week. Today I'm sharing two things which I saw on Twitter and both of which brightened my day. 

The first is the Salmon Cannon which I found totally fascinating, helping fish move over vast expanses of land. I did some reading on it and it turns out it has been around since 2014 but it passed my Twitter TL this week and put a smile on my face. I'm sharing a link to an article in The Guardian showing the viral video and explaining how the cannon works. 

The second thing I liked this week in a trailer of a romcom starring Christina Millian and Adam Demos, to be shown on Netflix on August 29. It was shared by author Nalini Singh and it's a romance set in New Zealand and it involves some home renovation project and more ... It looks really cute and I'd love to see it. 

Falling Inn Love trailer:

What did you like this week? Feel free to share the things you liked in the comments :)

Book recs

Some Less Popular Sports Featured in Romance


This list of compiled of recommendations I received on Twitter during this year #rombklove event. I have grouped together romances featuring sports that are not very popular and some rather popular in real life but conspicuously missing from romance novels.

My personal recommendations for romance romances presenting less popular sports or offering an unusual take on a popular sport, are listed in this earlier post.

Note 1: The inclusion of books/authors on the list here is not an endorsement on my part unless explicitly stated otherwise.

Note 2: The titles link to the Goodreads page for the book. The Amazon links are affiliate.

Water sports 

Diving Deep by KA Mitchell, contemporary m/m romance, diving. Currently not available for purchase

Lake Lovelace series by Vanessa North, competitive wakeboarding. Amazon

Love by the Bay series by Stephanie Kay, rec-league-Coast-Guard rescue swimmers. Amazon

Level Hands / Love Me Like a Rock / Hard Candy by Amy Jo Cousins, m/m romances, rowing. Amazon - Read and Loved

Stroke to His Cox, m/m romance short story by JL Merrow, rowing. Amazon

Swift River
series by Kristina Mathews, whitewater raft guides. Amazon

Wavehouse by Alice Kaltman, YA, surfing. Amazon

Hot Holiday Nights by Jaci Burton, m/f romance, surfing. Amazon

Pacific Blue
series by Lorelie Brown, m/f romance, surfing. Amazon

Sparks Like Ours by Melissa Brayden, f/f romance, surfing. Amazon

Extreme sports

Renegades series by Rebecca Yarros, m/f romances with X Games athletes. Amazon

Lessons in Gravity and Leaving Everest by Megan Westfield, m/f romances, rock climbing. Amazon

Gravity series by Sarina Bowen, skiers/snowboarders. Amazon - Read and enjoyed

Heartstruck by Angeli E. Dumatol. Arnis (Filipino martial art), YA contemporary m/f. Both MC and LI train and compete in the sport. Amazon

Boxing / Wrestling / MMA

A Fighting Chance by Shannon Stacey (novella). Amazon

Knock Out by Michele Mannon, m/m contemporary. Amazon

Dirty Boxing by Harper St George and Tara Waytt, m/f erotic romance, MMA.  Amazon

Showing Him the Ropes by Christa Tomlinson (m/m professional wrestling). Amazon

The Secret Heart by Erin Satie. This historical has a hero that is a bare-knuckle boxer. Amazon (It's free at the time of posting)

Submission Moves by Camilla Sisco is set in the US with an MMA fighter for a hero. Amazon

Below the Belt by Sarah Mayberry, m/f romance, heroine is a boxer. Amazon

Making Him Sweat, Taking Him Down, Driving Her Wild by by Cara McKenna writing as Meg Maguire about boxers. Amazon 

Willing Victim by Cara McKenna, m/f romance, hero is an MMA fighter. Amazon

Bad Neighbor by Molly O'Keefe, m/f romance. Amazon - Read and enjoyed

In Her Corner by Vicki Essex, m/f romance with MMA fighter heroine and her coach is the hero. Amazon

Memphis by Ginger Scott's is about a boxer who trains at the heroine's dad's gym. Amazon

Champion’s Heart by Piper Huguley is a Great Depression Era historical romance with black characters, including a boxer hero. Amazon

Let It Shine by Alyssa Cole, m/f historical set in 1960s, hero is a boxer. Amazon - ($0.99 at the time of posting)

Field and Track

Love on the Run by Zuri Day, female track and field Olympic & collegiate athlete and  male sports management agent. Amazon

Winning Ruby Heart by Jennifer Lohmann. Heroine is a disgraced Olympic athlete who takes up running ultra marathons. Amazon

Love at First Run by Angel C. Aquino, m/f romance, #romanceclass. Amazon

The University of Gatica series by Lexy Timms, track and field heroines. Amazon (Free at the time of posting)

There's Something About Sweetie by Sandyha Menon. Sweetie is a fat girl who runs track, her LI Ashish plays basketball. Amazon

Cars and bikes

Fast Track series by Erin McCarthy, m/f romances, MCs are NASCAR drivers. Amazon

Ride with Me by Ruthie Knox m/f romance about a long distance cyclist. Amazon - currently not available for purchase

Holeshot by M.A. Parker, m/f romance, motocross. Amazon

Cat by Freya North about a sports reporter covering Le Tour de France. Amazon - only used copies

Hard Driving series by Audra North, race car drivers. Amazon


Clang by E. Davies, m/m contemporary romance. Amazon

The Master Will Appear by L.A. Witt, m/m romance. Amazon

Introducing Mr. Winterbourn by Joanna Chambers, m/m historical romance, both MCs are fencers. Amazon

Lord Carew's Bride by Mary Balogh, m/f historical romance. Amazon - only used copies available

Heart Duel by Robin D. Owens, m/f paranormal romance. Amazon

A Rational Arrangement by L. Rowyn, fantasy polyamory mmf romance. Amazon


Game of Love by Ara Gregorian, m/f romance. Amazon

After Wimbledon by Jennifer Gilby Roberts, m/f romance . Amazon

Courting Carlyn by Melissa Chambers, m/f romance. Amazon


Once Upon a Player by Agay Llanera, m/f romance, college volleyball. Amazon

Playing with Seduction by Reese Ryan, heroine is a volleyball player. Amazon

The Cowboy Meets His Match by Sarah Mayberry, which features a female saddle bronc rider.  Amazon

Act Your Age by Eve Dangerfied. The heroine’s on a roller derby team. Amazon

Pride, Prejudice, and Curling Rocks by Andrea Brokaw, YA retelling of Pride and Prejudice, curling. Amazon

Settle the Score / Hustle Play by Tara Frejas is a duology of two short stories featuring a female basketball player & a male cheer squad member. Amazon

Settling the Score by R.S. Gray, m/f romance, heroine is a football player, hero is a swimmer adn they meet at the summer Olympics. Amazon

Romancing the Kicker by Catherine Lane, f/f romance about the first female kicker in NFL. Amazon

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