Ballet

Review: The Brightest Star in Paris by Diana Biller

06:22

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

Author Links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads



Blurb

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

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

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

Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon


Paranormal Romance

Review: Pretty Little Lion by Suleikha Snyder

02:30

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

Author's links:

My rating: 3 Stars


Blurb 

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

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

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

Review 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add to Goodreads / Buy on  Amazon

Cathy Yardley

Review: Love, Comment, Subscribe by Cathy Yardley

02:30

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

Author Links: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Instagram



Blurb 

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

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

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


Review 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CW: undiagnosed ADHD, burnout

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon 


BDSM

Review: Seducing the Sorcerer by Lee Welch

02:30

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

Release date: 23 Sept 2021

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Facebook

My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb

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

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

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

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


Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add on Goodreads / Buy on Amazon

China

Review: She Who Became the Sun

02:30

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

Release date: 20 July 2021

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Instagram 

My rating: 3 Stars

Blurb 

“I refuse to be nothing…”

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

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

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

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

Review 



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon

Baking

Review of Battle Royal by Lucy Parker

02:30

Title: Battle Royal (Palace Insiders #1)
Author: Lucy Parker
Genre / Themes: Contemporary romance / reality TV / Baking* Enemies-to-lovers 

Release date: 17 Aug 2021

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads

My rating: 4 Stars




Blurb

Ready…

Four years ago, Sylvie Fairchild charmed the world as a contestant on the hit baking show, Operation Cake. Her ingenious, colorful creations captivated viewers and intrigued all but one of the judges, Dominic De Vere, the hottest pastry chef in London. When her glittery unicorn cake went spectacularly sideways, Dominic was quick to vote her off the show. Since then, Sylvie has managed to use her fame to help fulfill her dream of opening a bakery, Sugar Fair. The toast of Instagram, Sugar Fair has captured the attention of the Operation Cake producers…and a princess.

Set…

Dominic is His Majesty the King’s favorite baker, the go-to for sweet-toothed A-List celebrities, and a veritable British institution. He’s brilliant, talented, hard-working. And an icy, starchy grouch. Learning that the irksome Sylvie will be joining him on the Operation Cake judging panel is enough to make the famously dour baker even more grim. Her fantastical baking is only slightly more troublesome than the fact that he can’t stop thinking about her pink-streaked hair and irrepressible dimple.

Match…

When Dominic and Sylvie learn they will be fighting for the once in a lifetime opportunity to bake a cake for the upcoming wedding of Princess Rose, the flour begins to fly as they’re both determined to come out on top.

The bride adores Sylvie’s quirky style. The palace wants Dominic’s classic perfection.

In this royal battle, can there be room for two?

Review

I have read all of Lucy Parker's previous books and they have all worked brilliantly for me. This one was no different. Grumpy - sunshine is favourite trope of mine in romance, adding bakers and reality TV shows and it's almost too good to be true.

I went in expecting light-hearted and fun romance, with lots of rival bakers shenanigans. This was not the case, but it was still amazing.

This was a touching, slow burn romance with two MCs who are opposites on the surface but deep down both are fiercely loyal to the people they love, both have suffered serious trauma in their past which they have taken a different approach to dealing with. He is distant, straight-lacd, keeping his emotions in check, following the rules and avoiding making human connections. She is the opposite - flamboyant, rule breaker, wearing her heart on her sleeve. In fact they both crave a deep connection, but are scared to give in to their feelings.

This story is not s romcom despite cover suggesting otherwise. Grief and loss and neglect take up a central place in it. It's heaertbreaking, very vivid and moving. The focus for me on how people who have been hurt in the past learn and dare to let people in again. There is a lot of happening here, both involving the MCs and the secondary characters. It's overwhelming at times but still the romance, the journey of the MCs towards each other shines through for me.

I felt the presentation of the hero's struggle with touch and spontaneity was well done, it felt real and relatable. The consent was brilliant, and just with respect to sex, but to touch in general. The romance was dreamy with great sexual tension. I loved how they worked as a couple, there was a strong sense of partnership despite the professional competition. I loved how their rivalry progressed with no dirty tricks and backstabbing between them.

There is plenty of dirty tricks on the reality show the MCs judge though. It showed the backstage rather than the glamour and success of reality TV cooking shows. It came close to Masterchef than GBBO in my opinion but it was still entertaining to see.

I am still not a fan of romances based of real life royal families. There were made up elements that made it feel distant though I still prefer

Don't like real royals, fake titles are used but still it was too close to reality.

Overall, this is an engaging romance, with some fun elements but mostly dealing with serious/heavy topics. I had some issues here and there but in end I really enjoyed it and can't wait for the next book in the series already.

CW: grief, parental neglect, loss of a parent/guardian, stabbing attack, stalking


Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon


Adriana Anders

Review: Uncharted by Adriana Anders

02:30

Title: Uncharted
Author: Adriana Anders
Date of publication: 24 Aug 2021
Genre: Romantic suspense, Alaska

Author's links:

My rating: 2.5 Stars


Blurb 

Hotshot pilot Leo Eddowes is afraid of nothing and no one. So when she's asked to evacuate a man from the wilds of Alaska, she doesn't hesitate. But with enemies in close pursuit and the weather turning sour, what should have been a simple mission quickly shifts to disaster.

And there's only one way out.

When Elias Thorne disappeared, he was America's most wanted. Now he's spent more than a decade in one of the most remote places on earth, guarding a dangerous secret. Leo's arrival, quickly followed by a team of expert hunters, leaves him no choice but to join forces with her—and run. Neither is prepared for their reluctant partnership to flare into something as wild and untamed as the frozen world around them...but as desperately cold days melt into scorchingly hot nights, Leo and Elias must learn to dig deep, trust in each other, and forge a bond as strong as the forces of nature.

Stranded together in a frozen wilderness,
There's nowhere left to run...


Review

I was bitterly disappointed with this book after absolutely loving the previous in the series. I did read Whiteout last January before the pandemic started and the deadly virus plot of the series definitely didn't affect me the way it did now, now it hit too close to home for me to enjoy the story and the romance.

It was not pleasant but I could have ignored it if the rest worked better for me. I can suspend belief regarding many things in romantic suspense but this book things too far and it felt ridiculous instead of engaging.

The heroine was sick (flu-type thing) throughout the book, on top of being injured and freezing to death for the most of it. It was stressful to read and honestly, felt superfluous, the tension was there even without it. The heroine is Black and she is an ex-military pilot but none of that is presented in much detail. From my position of an outsider, a Southeastern European white woman I expected it to be more central.

There is no romance to speak of in the first 40/50%. There was. no real character development either, just two people trying to survive in the Alaska wilderness while hunted by the bad guys.

I did like the final quarter of the book most of all - the romance was finally happening though I was not too fond of possessive, fated mates aspect in contemporaries, I can see it working here with all the adrenaline and emotions running high because of the extreme situations the MCs are in. At the same the whole danger/survival aspect was too much, we get reminded of her sickness and his injuries every couple of pages and it became boring at some point.

I liked the hero and appreciated the way he cared for the heroine. His backstory and current situation made sense though I was surprised by his abrupt change from a loner to someone who can't imagine life without the heroine. It all felt over the top to me.

There is a side plotline with Amka and the other people in town which didn't add anything to the story for me, I just found distracting.

I am intrigued by one of the villains who is morally grey but I am not sure that even his story will tempt me to continue with the series.

CW: an MC with flu-like symptoms, life-threatening injuries, violence, blood, dog in danger (survives)

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon

F/F romance

Review: The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

02:30

Title: The Jasmine Throne (Burning Kingdoms #1)
Author: Tasha Suri
Genre/Themes: Fantasy, f/f romance, Indian setting and MCs
Release Date: 8 June 2021


My rating: 5 Stars


Blurb 

Imprisoned by her dictator brother, Malini spends her days in isolation in the Hirana: an ancient temple that was once the source of the powerful, magical deathless waters — but is now little more than a decaying ruin.

Priya is a maidservant, one among several who make the treacherous journey to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to be an anonymous drudge, so long as it keeps anyone from guessing the dangerous secret she hides.

But when Malini accidentally bears witness to Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a vengeful princess seeking to depose her brother from his throne. The other is a priestess seeking to find her family. Together, they will change the fate of an empire.

Review 

I read the first book in Tasha Suri's previous series, Empire of Ash, and I liked it ok. This one though completely blew my mind. I loved everything in it - the Indian history/mythology inspired setting, the MCs and the secondary characters and all the complex relations among them, the high-stakes suspense plot, the tender f/f romance, the magic elements. 

It's a brilliant, very evocative and complex fantasy with strong f/f romantic elements.

I loved the writing, it was smooth and easily flowing and unlike many fantasy stories, especially when it's first book in a series, there was no info dump and I never felt overwhelmed with too many details about the world or the magic system. rich. 

The story is told from multiple POVs and they worked so well for me. Each voice was distinctive, giving strong individuality and important insight in the overall story. I was deeply invested in all the subplots and loved how they culminated in Priya and Malini's plot, both romantically and intrigue/suspense wise. 

The romance element is lovely but not central to the story, it's just one aspect of Priya and Malini's growth in the story. The focus, in my opinion, falls on the two women coming into their own powers, after the world had forced them to make themselves small, almost invisible in order to survive and, often, to escape the wrath and violence of the men around them. 

This book is all about strong women and how they navigate the world around them. Priya and Malini were amazing, but also Bhumika, Sima and basically I loved all the female characters. They are angry and prickly, often scared but also determined as they reclaim their place in the world. They are morally grey, going full black occasionally, but they are also caring and loyal. The moments they show  tenderness and vulnerability - they melted my heart. 

Most the female characters can be described as quintessential unlikeable heroines - the are on a journey where they are no longer hiding their power desires in all senses, they are no longer hesitant to act, instead they reach out and grab the power that inherently belongs to them. Same goes for their desires, both physical and of their soul - it's a slow process but in the end they are ready to pursue them with no shame or regret. 

Apart from the growth of strong female characters, this story is also about strong relationships -  friendship, rivalry, revenge, love in all their dimensions. I loved how nothing about the relationships in the story is just black or white, there is a lot of grey there but also lots of bright colours of hope and future. 

Overall, this is an amazing epic fantasy with strong f/f romance elements and I absolutely mesmerized by it. Can't wait for its sequel coming in 2022. 

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon 

Note: I am adopting a new rule regarding Content Warnings in my reviews. I will quote them from the author's site if available, adding things on my own discretion is necessary. 

CW: per author's website
Explicit violence including immolation and self-immolation
Gender-based violence (this does not include sexual assault)
Homophobia and internalised homophobia
Suicidal ideation
Self-mutilation
Abusive family dynamics
Child murder
Body horror (plant-based, cosmic)
Forced drug use and depictions of addiction/withdrawal

Nalini Singh

Review: Last Guard by Nalini Singh

02:30

Title: Last Guard (Psy-Changeling Trinity #3)
Author: Nalini Singh
Date of publication: 20 July 2021
Genre: Paranormal romance, shifters

Author's links:

Rating: 5 Stars


Blurb 

Termed merciless by some, and a robotic sociopath by others, Payal Rao is the perfect Psy: cardinal telekinetic, CEO of a major conglomerate, beautiful—and emotionless.

For Canto Mercant, family and loyalty are everything. A cardinal telepath deemed "imperfect" by his race due to a spinal injury, Canto cares for the opinions of very few—and ruthlessly protects those he claims as his own. Head of intel of the influential Mercant family, he prefers to remain a shadow in the Net, unknown and unseen. But Canto is also an Anchor, part of a secretive designation whose task it is to stabilize the PsyNet. Now that critical psychic network is dying, threatening to collapse and kill the entire Psy race with it.

To save those he loves, Canto needs the help of a woman bound to him by a dark past neither has been able to forget. A woman who is the most powerful Anchor of them all: Payal Rao. Neither is ready for the violent inferno about to ignite in the PsyNet…or the passionate madness that threatens to destroy them both.

Review 

This is just brilliant, one of my favourites in the whole series which is no small with over 20 books in the series and me loving most of them. Nalini Singh is truly a master of the paranormal romance and her stories set the highest of high bars against which I measure any other shifter romance I read.

I loved everything in this story - the familiarity of the world, the amazing writing, the suspense and the romance.

Together with the familiar things in this story that gave me comfort and warm feel, there were a number of firsts here that keep the series fresh and every book stands out with something. For the first time we see an MC with a physical disability, furthermore he is a Psy and Psys don't tolerate imperfection (or everyone thinks). It was great to see Canto Mercant being a strong leader despite everything. I can judge the disability representation from an outsider perspective only but I felt it was done with care and empathy.

I love Psy-changeling couples the most with psy-psy coming close second. It is fascinating to watch how the psy embrace their emotions, how they deal with them in different ways. Canto is not really silent and his close contact with the bear shifters set him apart from most psys. The unwavering support of the Mercant family is also a powerful force that shaped him.

In a way Payal family has also shaped her who she is in a very, very different way from Canto's family.

Re-discovering each other after years, it was like getting to know each other again while at the same time, they already knew the most intimate secrets of each other. I loved how they got to trust each other, to rely on the other in all things.

We move between Moscow (bear country) and India (Rayal's world) and we get to see some of the bears which is always fun. We also get another first here - a queer relationship between to men - a psy and a bear shifter (we already met them in Silver Silence). It's not a central element or presented in much detail but it is there, wrecking havoc on the very heteronormative world we have seen in this series so far. I

The over-arching suspense plot of the series continues, it might be a bit repetitive at this point, with new threads to the psy network coming up all the time and then being resolved with the help of a new sub-designation of psys. Still, I can very much overlook this and just enjoy the good guys coming together and victorious (for now) against the bad guys.

The ending of the story was such a tender touch, highlighting the role of kindness in the world. It worked brilliantly for me.

A note of warning in the end, child abuse and the respective trauma feature prominently in this book (this is not somethin new in the series), it made for a difficult and very emotional read at times. The violence and suffering is not gratuitous at all, it makes sense in the world of the series though that doesn't make it any easier to read through.

Overall, this is another unforgettable instalment in the series and I can highly recommend it.

CW: child abuse (in the past), eugenics, torture (physical and mental), violence, ableism (challenged throughout the story)

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon

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

Add on Goodreads / Buy on Amazon


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

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon

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, 

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon

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 fiancé.

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.

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon

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


Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon

Martha Wells

Review: Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells

05:06

Title: Fugitive Telemetry 
(The Murderbot Dairies #6)
Author: Martha Wells 
Date of publication: 27 Apr 2021
Genre: Science Fiction 

Author's Links: Goodreads / Website / Twitter

My rating: 5 Stars



Blurb 

No, I didn’t kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn’t dump the body in the station mall.

When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people—who knew?)

Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans!

Again!

Review

This is another great installment in the Murderbot series and I just can't get enough of these stories. I am so happy there will be more books coming out in the future.

This time Murderbot helps with a murder investigation it has to work with a whole bunch of other bots and humans. It is forced to interact with so many entities, some friendly, more of them suspicious of its nature.

I loved everything in the story - Murderbot's sarcasm and hatred for any emotion, its loyalty and care for its people (and their care for it, each of them showing it in their own way), the complex interactions with humans and other bots. Murderbot is more humane than many of the humans I have read in SFF and I love it with all my heart for it.

The writing is great as usual, tight and detailed at the same time, telling a complex and completed story in a novella length. The text sends clear messages against capitalism, slavery, colonialism but none of it is heavy handed or in your face, they are just there in every every page of the story.

The murder mystery in itself was intriguing and engaging and kept me guessing who the perpetrator was till the very end.

The story has everything I want in SFF - feelings (despite Murderbot's hatred for them), humour and suspense, good guys coming together against the bad ones, breaking down of stereotypes and defying expectations.

Every book in this series has been a delight and this one is no exception.

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon

Alternate History

Review: The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

14:30

Title: The Beautiful Ones
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Date of publication: 27 Apr 2021
Genre: Historical Romance, Paranormal elements, Alternate History

Author's Links: Goodreads / Website / Twitter

My rating: 4 Stars




Blurb

They are the Beautiful Ones, Loisail’s most notable socialites, and this spring is Nina’s chance to join their ranks, courtesy of her well-connected cousin and his calculating wife. But the Grand Season has just begun, and already Nina’s debut has gone disastrously awry. She has always struggled to control her telekinesis—neighbors call her the Witch of Oldhouse—and the haphazard manifestations of her powers make her the subject of malicious gossip.

When entertainer Hector Auvray arrives to town, Nina is dazzled. A telekinetic like her, he has traveled the world performing his talents for admiring audiences. He sees Nina not as a witch, but ripe with potential to master her power under his tutelage. With Hector’s help, Nina’s talent blossoms, as does her love for him.

But great romances are for fairytales, and Hector is hiding a truth from Nina—and himself—that threatens to end their courtship before it truly begins. The Beautiful Ones is a charming tale of love and betrayal, and the struggle between conformity and passion, set in a world where scandal is a razor-sharp weapon.


Review

This was a highly enjoyable read, my first book by this author and it will definitely not be the last.

This is ahistorical romance set in an imaginary world inspired by the Belle Epoque, with a touch of magic. I found it to be richly drawn and engaging. The plot was intriguing with some twists and turns that I didn't expect. The romance itself is a slow burn, some ambiguity in the starts, a love triangle of sorts that got we worried that it will not be my kind book but I am very happy with the way this triangle unfolded and the direction the romance took.

I loved being Nina's head, a young woman, somewhat naive, somewhat shy and nerdy. We see her trying to figure out who she is and what she wants in life as most young people do. There mistakes made, wrong turns taken which to lessons learned. The process of her getting her agency, making her own choices was fascinating to observe.

Hector was an interesting hero in his own and even more so in his romantic relationships. It's a journey of figuring out himself as well. Initial he was certain who he was and what he wanted only to gradually discover things are not quite like that. I appreciate that he didn't fall head over heels in love with the heroine the first time he saw her. It was slow process, some initial irritation, dismissal even, only to grow really close to her and get to appreciate what she brings into his life.

Friendship and support, total acceptance of the other as they are, these are the foundations of their romance and I loved seeing it.

I also appreciate how the multidimensional the main villain was, she not a cardboard evil mastermind, but a real full-blooded person with their own dreams and fears and anger and hate. Yes, she is cruel and ruthless but we see her motivations, we see how she got the be the way she was and I liked that a lot.

I also loved the meta aspect of how reading romances has shaped Nina's expectations of men and love. It gave some levity to the story and created these heart-warming moments of fun and sweetness.

An important aspect of the story is the topic of forgiveness, asking for it and granting. It's a cure all, it's complex, it requires continuous efforts on both sides.

The story also gives some commentary on family relations, how different they can be - 100% supporting and caring (even if misguided sometimes) or totally destructive and suffocating.

Overall, I found this to be a charming romance, compelling and deftly written.

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon

Flickr Images