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 fiancĂ©.

Review 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contemporary Romance

Review: Love at First by Kate Clayborn

02:30


Title: Love at First
Author: Kate Clayborn
Date of publication: 23 Feb 2021
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Author's Links: Goodreads / Website / Twitter

My rating: 5 stars




Blurb 

Sixteen years ago, a teenaged Will Sterling saw—or rather, heard—the girl of his dreams. Standing beneath an apartment building balcony, he shared a perfect moment with a lovely, warm-voiced stranger. It’s a memory that’s never faded, though he’s put so much of his past behind him. Now an unexpected inheritance has brought Will back to that same address, where he plans to offload his new property and get back to his regular life as an overworked doctor. Instead, he encounters a woman, two balconies above, who’s uncannily familiar...

No matter how surprised Nora Clarke is by her reaction to handsome, curious Will, or the whispered pre-dawn conversations they share, she won’t let his plans ruin her quirky, close-knit building. Bound by her loyalty to her adored grandmother, she sets out to foil his efforts with a little light sabotage. But beneath the surface of their feud is an undeniable connection. A balcony, a star-crossed couple, a fateful meeting—maybe it’s the kind of story that can't work out in the end. Or maybe, it’s the perfect second chance...

Review

I have a really hard time reviewing books that I loved and this is one of my favourites of 2021 so far and likely will be an all-time favourite romance. I have read all Kate Clayborn's books and have enjoyed most of them and I think this is her best one to date. 

I am not much of a crier when reading romance but this book broke me and then fixed me in the best possible way. There is such depth of emotion and grief and tenderness that it is hard to put into words but it gets to you and makes your heart ache. 

Nora is amazing, but Will was everything for me. I loved how real they both read to me, awkward and tentative and messing up and feeling too much. We have these two people navigating the world very much on their own, dealing with grief and childhood trauma.

It's the gentlest, most tender romance between two people who are closed off, very much stuck in the past. The focus is very much on romantic love starting as enemies, going through bickering and playing tricks on each other, to end as soulmates. The other main element in the story has to do with family and community in all their complexity - their power to lift you up, the give you strength and unwavering support but also their power to destroy, to make you feel small, invisible, insignificant. 

I loved seeing unlikely friendships blossoming, seeing the struggle between loyalty and moving on with your life, trying new things despite being afraid to do it.

All in all, I just loved this book with all my heart! 

CW: child neglect, grief, loss of parents (in the past), loss of a grandparent (in the past), illness

Add on Goodreads / Buy on Amazon 

Contemporary Romance

Review: Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron

02:00

Title: Accidentally Engaged 
Author: Farah Heron
Date of publication: 2 March 2021
Genre / Themes: Contemporary Romance / Muslim MCs

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads

My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb

Reena Manji doesn’t love her career, her single status, and most of all, her family inserting themselves into every detail of her life. But when caring for her precious sourdough starters, Reena can drown it all out. At least until her father moves his newest employee across the hall--with hopes that Reena will marry him.

But Nadim’s not like the other Muslim bachelors-du-jour that her parents have dug up. If the Captain America body and the British accent weren’t enough, the man appears to love eating her bread creations as much as she loves making them. She sure as hell would never marry a man who works for her father, but friendship with a neighbor is okay, right? And when Reena’s career takes a nosedive, Nadim happily agrees to fake an engagement so they can enter a couples video cooking contest to win the artisan bread course of her dreams.

As cooking at home together brings them closer, things turn physical, but Reena isn’t worried. She knows Nadim is keeping secrets, but it’s fine— secrets are always on the menu where her family is concerned. And her heart is protected… she’s not marrying the man. But even secrets kept for self preservation have a way of getting out, especially when meddling parents and gossiping families are involved.


Review

This is a very engaging contemporary romance with with a strong focus on messed up families. I liked the story a lot, it has many twists and turns and unexpected developments which is rare in romance but it worked well here.

The heroine is a modern-day Muslim 30-something woman in Canada and we see her struggling to balance her family traditional values (at least one the surface) with hectic life in the big city. We see lots, and lots of food and food making (the reality cooking show is a major plot point but the focus is very much kept on the cooking rather than on the show aspect). I liked how the food was something that brought the MCs together, something they had in common but also something they enjoyed doing together. Nadim's relationship the sourdough starter was hilarious and so, so endearing.

A found the romance really interesting, there was a strong chemistry between Reena and Nadim but also many hiccups in their getting together - inner and outer conflicts abound. Their relationship was very closely interwoven with their families, for better or worse. We see strong friendships and tense family relations and many characters. working through stuff, not always in the healthies way but making a conscious effort to be better.

I felt at some point there were too many secrets, it was distracting and overwhelming. On the negative side we get only the heroine's POV which did give us a very in-depth look into her character but in comparison Nadim felt much less developed. I still liked him a lot and felt convinced in them as a couple but would have loved to get more insight into his character/motivations.

All the relationships we see in the story are complicated, even when the people care for each other and it felt very real and relatable. It takes a lot of effort and honesty to form and sustain any relationship. And despite Reena's family being meddling and overbearing, they ultimately cared for her (and each other) unlike his father where no reconciliation seemed possible.

Ultimately this is the story of two young people finding their place in life - professionally and personally - all under the heavy shadow and too close surveillance by families.

CW: eating disorder (off page), depression (in the past), toxic family dynamics

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon

Historical Romance

Review: To Love and to Loathe by Martha Waters

02:04

Title: To Love and to Loathe
Author: Martha Waters
Date of publication: 6 Apr 2021
Genre / Themes: Historical Romance / Romcom

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

My rating: 4.5 Stars




Blurb

The widowed Diana, Lady Templeton and Jeremy, Marquess of Willingham are infamous among English high society as much for their sharp-tongued bickering as their flirtation. One evening, an argument at a ball turns into a serious wager: Jeremy will marry within the year or Diana will forfeit one hundred pounds. So shortly after, just before a fortnight-long house party at Elderwild, Jeremy’s country estate, Diana is shocked when Jeremy appears at her home with a very different kind of proposition.

After his latest mistress unfavorably criticized his skills in the bedroom, Jeremy is looking for reassurance, so he has gone to the only woman he trusts to be totally truthful. He suggests that they embark on a brief affair while at the house party—Jeremy can receive an honest critique of his bedroom skills and widowed Diana can use the gossip to signal to other gentlemen that she is interested in taking a lover.

Diana thinks taking him up on his counter-proposal can only help her win her wager. With her in the bedroom and Jeremy’s marriage-minded grandmother, the formidable Dowager Marchioness of Willingham, helping to find suitable matches among the eligible ladies at Elderwild, Diana is confident her victory is assured. But while they’re focused on winning wagers, they stand to lose their own hearts.

Review

I loved the first book in the series, To Love and to Hoax, and this was just as good - light-hearted and funny m/f historical romance with a serious core.

This romance features a house party and a marriage, frenemies-to-lovers and it all worked great for me. There is also lovely minor f/f subplot. I appreciate how queer relationships were discussed in the text, no homophobia but easy acceptance instead. Initially I was worried about the representation of the marriage obsessed over-eager noble lady and how misogynistic it came across but I am happy to say that the truth about her turned out to be rather different and I loved it.

I really liked a lot of the story elements, besides the romance - the exploration of roles of men and women in Victorian society, how they play them and can use them to subvert the norms, how power and freedom intersect. I liked seeing both the men and women carving a place for their happiness in a very strictly regulated world. The story says a lot about the masks people wear in society and how the real person behind the mask can be much more interesting and real.

Both MCs were wonderful in their own way. Diana and Jeremy are both currently in a situation of privilege but also aware of it and trying to use it to care for themselves and for others.

Very much like the first book in the series, there is a strong element of playfulness here, Diana and Jeremy expressing their feelings for each other through pushing each other's button, lots of witty banter and play pretend.

I loved the element in their intimacy where she teaches him how to give her pleasure. There was fun and joking in the bedroom but also deeply honest and somewhat awkward conversations around pleasure and desire.

The ending felt a bit rushed and his proposal was too public for my taste though I have to admit it was a good fit for them.

I loved the glimpses of Emily and Belfry and can't wait for their (I hope) story.

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon

Nalini Singh

Review: Quiet in Her Bones by Nalini Singh

02:10

Title: Quiet in Her Bones
Author: Nalini Singh
Date of publication: 23 Feb 2021
Genre: Thriller

Author's links:

My rating: 4 Stars 


Blurb 

My mother vanished ten years ago.
So did a quarter of a million dollars in cash.
Thief. Bitch. Criminal.
Now, she's back.
Her bones clothed in scarlet silk.

When socialite Nina Rai disappeared without a trace, everyone wrote it off as another trophy wife tired of her wealthy husband. But now her bones have turned up in the shadowed green of the forest that surrounds her elite neighborhood, a haven of privilege and secrets that's housed the same influential families for decades.

The rich live here, along with those whose job it is to make their lives easier. And somebody knows what happened to Nina one rainy night ten years ago. Her son Aarav heard a chilling scream that night, and he's determined to uncover the ugly truth that lives beneath the moneyed elegance...but no one is ready for the murderous secrets about to crawl out of the dark.

Even the dead aren't allowed to break the rules in this cul-de-sac.


Review

Nalini Singh is my favourite PNR author, her Psy-Changling series set the bar that I use to measure any other PNR against. She also writes contemporaries which are a hit or miss for me but still, I mostly enjoy them. This is only her second thriller. I loved the first one despite the issues I had with the resolution and who the murder turned out to be.

This book is thrilling and scary and amazing but once again I have some issues with the ending.

Aarav is one of the most unreliable narrator I have ever read and going on the journey to discover the killer with him was a wild ride by all means. I admit I didn't guess the killer till the very end and very much like Aarav and suspected everyone at some point.

Like Nalini Singh's previous thriller, this one is very atmospheric with a strong sense of place which I really liked. The murder mystery in a cul-de-saq neighbourhood of the rich was very engrossing and kept me on the edge till the last page.

I found the story scarier that some horror I have read, not so much because of the murder and some of violence that happens but because of witnessing Aarav's mind breaking, and seeing him not trusting himself, not knowing and not remembering, it was brutal and so powerfully presented.

I was on board with everything going on, though some aspects of the mother-son relationship made me uncomfortable, till the very end. It was easy to hate his father, it was more difficult to pinpoint my feelings for Aarav and Nina - there is sympathy and desire to help and protect. But also they lied and cheated and manipulated the others. They were not good people but complex ones - hurt and hurting but also caring and loyal.

I felt uncomfortable with the violence we see with regard to some queer side characters. It was not only them that get hurt in the story, straight characters also suffer abuse and violence, but I feel at least some of the violence towards the queer characters could have been spared (it was not queerphobia or gender-based violence, I need to clarify).

Now, the ending, on the one hand I had suspicions that didn't turn out to be true and I am happy and relieved about it. At the same time I felt the resolution of the murder mystery took the focus away from Nina. She was very much in the center of the story and her life and disappearance basically shaped Aarav the way he was. Going in the direction it went, the ending did a disservice to Nina in my opinion.

All in all, I had minor complaints with the story and feel this is a solid thriller with a compelling mystery plot, engaging written with a more or less satisfying resolution.

CWs: domestic violence, abuse, car crash, hospital stay, cheating, suicide, drugs, alcohol addiction (in the past), mental health issues, migraines, memory loss


Add on Goodreads / Buy on Amazon



Alternate History

Review: Sword Dance and Saffron Alley by A. J. Demas

02:00

Title: Sword Dance (Sword Dance #1)
Author: A. J. Demas
Date of publication: 31 July 2019
Genre: Alt-history Romance, queer romance

Author's links:

My rating: 4 stars

Blurb
Five years ago, Damiskos’s brilliant military career was cut short, leaving him with a permanent disability and scars that are not all physical. Adrift and still grieving, he tries to find meaning in an unsatisfying job.

Work takes him to the remote seaside villa of an old friend, where, among an odd assortment of guests, he meets the eunuch sword-dancer Varazda. Enigmatic and beautiful but distinctly prickly, Varazda is the antithesis of the straightforward and serious Damiskos. Yet as they keep getting in each other’s way at the villa, their mutual dislike is complicated by a spark of undeniable attraction.

Then the villa’s guests begin to reveal their true characters and motives—no one here is what they seem—and Damiskos finds himself at the centre of a bizarre web of espionage, theft, and assassination. Varazda may need Damiskos’s help, but not as much as Damiskos, finally awakening to a new sense of life and purpose, needs Varazda.

Sword Dance is the first book in the Sword Dance trilogy, an m/nb romance set in an imaginary ancient world, with murderous philosophy students, sex acts named after fruit, and love blossoming in the midst of mayhem.

Review

This is the second book I read by this author and it is set in a vaguely similar world - alternate historical world reminiscent of Ancient Greece and Rome. I liked the world building before and I liked it here. It's a rich and vividly depicted world.

I liked suspense/murder mystery at a house party plot and was invested in it despite finding it all going a bit silly towards the end, still it''s very enjoyable and good enough background for the romance plot.

I found both MCs very interesting and likable. Damiskos and Varazda are opposites in many ways but both are decent human beings, who care about others and are open to exploring the attraction between them.

Damiskos is an ex-soldier, uncertain about his future, disabled. He struggles to find his direction in life but at the same time is comfortable in his desires and sexuality. Varazda is a non-binary sword dancer, an eunuch, a freed slave. Acting was part of his job (dancer and a spy) but women's style is also part of who he was - long hair and kohl and dresses and accesories. I found him to be a captivating character, both strong and loyal but also insecure, lacking experience in consensual sex, never before having  had a lover/partner on his own free choosing.

Their relationship started under extreme circumstance and was to some extend adrenaline driven, though their moments of tender heart-to-hearts were my favourite. The awkwardly shared fears and doubts and dreams under the cover of the night melted my heart. 

There is no HEA at the end of this book, just the promise to explore things between Dami and Varazda further.

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon


Title: Saffron Alley (Sword Dance #2)
Author: A. J. Demas
Date of publication: 6 Feb 2021
Genre: Alt-history Romance, queer romance

Author's links:

My rating: 4 stars


Blurb

A month ago, eunuch sword-dancer and spy Varazda collided with ex-soldier Damiskos at a seaside villa during a dizzying week of intrigue, assassinations, and a fake love affair that—maybe—turned real. Now Varazda is back home in Boukos, at the center of a family and community he dearly loves, and Damiskos is coming to visit.

Things aren’t going according to plan.

Varazda’s family members suspect Damiskos’s motives. Varazda grapples with his own desires. Add in a horrible goose, a potentially lethal sculpture, and yet another assassination plot, and any man other than Dami would be boarding a ship straight back to Pheme.

It’s going to take all of Damiskos’s patience, and all of Varazda’s strength, to make this new relationship work. After all that, solving one more murder shouldn’t be too hard.

Saffron Alley is the second book in the Sword Dance trilogy, the continuation of Dami and Varazda’s story from Sword Dance. It crosses over with One Night in Boukos, but you don’t have to have read that book to enjoy this one.


Review


I was happy that I could read this book right after I finished the first one so I could pick up Dami and Varazda's story right where they left off.

I loved the romance here even more than in book 1 but also found the suspense, especially the whole plotline with Varazda's friend Ariston even more ridiculous than in book 1. This did nothing to detract of my joy of the rest of the story though.

Seeing Dami and Varazda becoming a couple, navigating V's family and friends, deepening their intimacy (which had its ups and downs) was wonderful.

My favourite element in the romance is how much of it is basically caring about each other, being mindful of the other person's issues (Dami's disability impairs his movement and V is also considerate of that without making a big deal about it; V's trauma impacts his ability to be intimate of Dami and Dami did his best to make their intimate experiences as comfortable, as satisfying as possible for V without making him pressured or inadequate in any way).

I absolutely loved seeing them navigate V's family and domestic routines. Dami is great with V's found family, no questions, no doubts, complete understanding of V's obligations and care for his loved ones. I liked how they navigate their intimacy, made accommodations for the traumas and disabilities of the other without making it a big deal. There was awkwardness and misunderstandings, but also a lot of care for each other, subtle gestures of support, love, trust which I loved seeing on page.

This book delves deeper into Varazda being non-binary/genderfluid. I enjoyed seeing him embrace himself (and his friends' absolute acceptance of who he is) but since I am a cis person myself I don't feel qualified to judge how well the non-binary representation was done.

The story ends abruptly but with a tentative HFN and the promise of a HEA. I am excited to read the next book in the series and see how Damiskos and Varazda and their loved ones will settle together as one big family.

Add to Goodreads / Buy on Amazon

Historical Romance

Review: The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting by KJ Charles

02:01

Title: The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting
Author: KJ Charles
Genre/Themes: Historical romance, M/M romance
Release Date: 24 Feb 2021

Author links: Website / Twitter / FB Group / Goodreads

My rating: 4.5 Stars


Blurb 

Robin Loxleigh and his sister Marianne are the hit of the Season, so attractive and delightful that nobody looks behind their pretty faces.

Until Robin sets his sights on Sir John Hartlebury’s heiress niece. The notoriously graceless baronet isn’t impressed by good looks, or fooled by false charm. He’s sure Robin is a liar—a fortune hunter, a card sharp, and a heartless, greedy fraud—and he’ll protect his niece, whatever it takes.

Then, just when Hart thinks he has Robin at his mercy, things take a sharp left turn. And as the grumpy baronet and the glib fortune hunter start to understand each other, they also find themselves starting to care—more than either of them thought possible.

But Robin's cheated and lied and let people down for money. Can a professional rogue earn an honest happy ever after?

Review 

This is a standalone m/m historical romance, similar in vibe to Band Sinister (which I love btw) and enjoyed it immensely.

KJ Charles is auto-read author for me and often pick her books even without reading the blurb. This is one of those times and the general promo as soft romance was enough for me to make me request the ARC.

And this story is just what I need - soft romance, high heat, no murders.

It's an engrossing story which for the most part kept me on my toes as to how the main romance (and all secondary relationships ) will play out. It is a rare thing in romance, especially when there is no action packed suspense plot. Somehow KJ Charles managed to do it, keep me guessing almost till the end and loved the unexpected twists and turns so much.

I liked both MCs and found their families and friends, even the truly bad ones, to be well drawn. Robin and Hart are opposites in many ways, grumpy-sunshine kind of romance which is my absolute catnip. 

We got intriguing full-fledged characters who read like real people. Some are beautiful and graceful and funny, others - not so much. Some love social events and being the center of attention, others - prefer the countryside or mathematics. 

I didn't expect the debt/payment bit that came at the start of Robin and Hart's relationship and was initially apprehensive how it will be handled re consent in a sexual relationship. But they talked things through every single step of the relationship and this left me confident that there is not pressure/forcing of any sorts. And apart from the surprising start, I absolutely loved their romance with all its complexities and mis-steps and finding a way to apologise and change oneself into a better person. 

I want to make a special note about families in this story. We see both amazingly close and supportive families but we also get  families that are abusive and harmful. This aspect in the story was very important for me and it is what makes it not exactly a light-hearted romance in my eyes. It's serious and moving and emotional and I loved it.

I highly recommend this book and tentatively hope for a sequel (Alice and Marianne's adventure in Europe totally have the potential to be awesome).

CWs: abuse, child abuse (in the past), neglect (in the past)

Add to Goodread / Buy on Amazon

Flickr Images