Charlie Adhara

Review: Pack of Lies by Charlie Adhara

02:30

Title: Pack of Lies (Monster Hunt)
Author: Charlie Adhara
Genre / Themes: Shifters /Murder mystery
Release date: 31 Aug 2022

Author's links: Website / Twitter/ Goodreads

My rating: 5 Stars

Blurb 

Werewolf meets human. Werewolf snubs human. Werewolf loves human?

Julien Doran arrived in sleepy Maudit Falls, North Carolina, with a heart full of hurt and a head full of questions. The key to his brother's mysterious last days might be found in this tiny town, and now Julien's amateur investigation is starting to unearth things the locals would rather keep buried.

Perhaps most especially the strange, magnetic manager of a deserted retreat that's nearly as odd as its staff.

Eli Smith is a lot of things: thief, werewolf, glamour-puss, liar. And now the manager of a haven for rebel pack runaways. He’s spent years cultivating a persona to disguise his origins, but for the first time ever he’s been entrusted with a real responsibility—and he plans to take that seriously.

Even if the handsome tourist who claims to be in town for some R & R is clearly on a hunt for all things paranormal. And hasn't taken his brooding gaze off Eli since he's arrived.

When an old skeleton and a fresh corpse turn a grief errand into a murder investigation, the unlikely Eli is the only person Julien can turn to. Trust is hard to come by in a town known for its monsters, but so is time…

Review 

This is the start of a spin-off series from the Big bad Wolf series which I absolutely love. I have to say this is pretty strong start and I am intrigued by the MCs and looking forward to reading more about them. I get the feelings we will be following the same couple in multiple books again (Cooper and Park have the loveliest cameo btw).

The tone and whole setting is very similar to the previous series, a sort of seamless continuation though it stands well on its own.

The story has a bit of a bit of country house intrigue but with werewolves and monsters. We have already met Eli in the previous book but we get to discover completely new sides of him. The other MC, Julien was rather intriguing as well - an older bi man with two divorces behind and a flagging movie career mourning the loss of his brother. Strong focus on complicated family relations and grief. He is anxious and lost and full of doubts and questions. I liked that he was confident in his bisexuality yet shy and flustered, with no real experience being with men. I think the dynamics in their intimacy - the exploration, the abundant communication, the power play - it was all exquisitely done.

We learned a bit about Eli's past though not much and we see the scars both he and Lucien carry. Eli doesn't show much of himself, he is outwardly confident, provocative but always wearing a mask, never opening himself to the world (and not just because he is werewolf in a world where humans are not aware of werewolves existing).

A particular aspect of the story and the relationship that I enjoyed a lot was this dance of trust and betrayal, of keeping secrets and sharing things you haven't shared with anyone else. We see two grown men being vulnerable, open, caring but also a little sacred, somewhat apprehensive, secretive because life has taught them to rely on themselves, Eli specifically.

As for the suspense plot, it was fast-paced, engaging, kept e guessing till the very end. Interesting, full-fledged side characters both good and bad ones.

The monster hunting which was at the heart of the story with some people genuinely believing in it, others using it for their own agenda, it was an on-point commentary of human/wolves in the world of the books but also on who is the monster and who is the hunter in real life. It was well done and I liked it a lot.

Overall, this is a promising start of new m/m PNR suspense series and I am excited for the upcoming books.

CW: loss of a family member, grief, violence, murders, serious injuries, anxiety

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Emily Sullivan

Review: The Hellion and the Hero by Emily Sullivan

06:39

Title: The Hellion and the Hero
(League of Scoundrels #3)
Author: Emily Sullivan
Date of publication: 23 Aug 2022
Genre: Historical romance

Author's links:

My rating: 3 stars


Blurb

Society darling Lady Georgiana Arlington spent years crafting her image as the ideal wife, but since her husband’s unexpected death, she has lived mostly for herself while making desperately needed improvements to the businesses she inherited­­––and gaining a mysterious enemy in the process. With few people she can trust, Georgiana must rely on Captain Henry Harris, a former fortune-hunter turned private investigator who once claimed to love the woman beneath her carefully polished veneer. Time and experience have left a heavy mark on the dashing young officer she used to know, but she finds herself even more drawn to the dark and complicated man he has become.

When Captain Harris left London eight years ago, he was heartbroken and nearly penniless. Now he has returned as a decorated naval hero with everything he could ever want. Everything except Lady Georgiana… As a careless young woman, she once shredded his heart when she married another man. But now she is as alluring as ever, with a newfound tenacity he can’t help but admire. And the more he uncovers, the more nothing is as it seems, especially the woman he once swore to hate forever.

Review 

Another great installment in a fun historical romance series though it was not my favourite.

This is a second chance romance where the conflict was based on a misunderstanding almost until the very end. It did create some great angst but also was frustrating at times. The lack of communication and making assumption about the feelings of the other went on for too long and I wanted to shake the MCs and tell to talk to each other already.

I realise it is not that simple and being open and honest about one's feelings can be super hard. On top of that hero is broody and silent and heroine is too proud and independent. Still, love finds a way eventually.

There is a minor suspense plot serving to bring the MCs together. And highly enjoyable siblings and meddling friends. It was all cosy and nice but somehow lacking tension and enough conflict for me.

I want to make special note of the grumpy hero who sincerely admired the heroine for her professional success and risk-taking in her business endeavors. He found his true calling in the end as well and I was very happy for him.

Overall, the story had a a kind of airy, breezy quality, everything resolving quickly, things getting perfect for everyone.

It's a nice, solid romance with a bit of adventure (Monte Carlo and casinos), a bit of suspense, a lot of chemistry and secrets. I went expecting more drama and tension but if you are looking for a more low-key, happy-making historical romance that covers a broader slice of society than just the Ton, this would be perfect for you.

Content notes: disabled hero (knee injury), some violence, abduction and attempted murder


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F/F romance

Review: The Oleander Sword by Tasha Suri

02:30

 

Title: The Oleander Sword (Burning Kingdoms #2)
Author: Tasha Suri
Genre/Themes: Fantasy, f/f romance, Indian setting and MCs
Release Date: 16 Aug 2022

Author's links: Website Twitter Goodreads Instagram

My rating: 5 Stars



Blurb 

The prophecy of the nameless god—the words that declared Malini the rightful empress of Parijatdvipa—has proven a blessing and curse. She is determined to claim the throne that fate offered her. But even with the strength of the rage in her heart and the army of loyal men by her side, deposing her brother is going to be a brutal and bloody fight.

The power of the deathless waters flows through Priya’s blood. Thrice born priestess, Elder of Ahiranya, Priya’s dream is to see her country rid of the rot that plagues it: both Parijatdvipa's poisonous rule, and the blooming sickness that is slowly spreading through all living things. But she doesn’t yet understand the truth of the magic she carries.

Their chosen paths once pulled them apart. But Malini and Priya's souls remain as entwined as their destinies. And they soon realize that coming together is the only way to save their kingdom from those who would rather see it burn—even if it will cost them.

Review 

Gorgeous, moving, full of magic and suspense!

Often the second books in series loose the momentum of the first one. This was very much not the case here. It very much upped the stakes on the romance, the magic, the suspense.

The story continues where it left off at the end of book 1 with Malini on her way to the throne and Priya trying to rebuild Ahirniya. We meet a bunch of new characters, often seeing things from their POV. It’s never confusing or too much, rather it creates a very vivid world. It is amazing to me how distinctive and well developed even the minor characters in this series are.

As the story unfolds we see court intrigue and priestly manipulation abound. All the while Malini and Priya and Bumikha and Rao and Aditya try to follow their destiny without losing themselves completely. The author consistently gives us outstanding female characters, they all have different strength and lead a fight to live their lives on their own terms. We see women leading armies and fighting, providing spiritual guidance and wielding magical powers, giving political advise. It is a powerful you-have-a-choice-and-can-be-anything-you-want-to-be message for me and I found it really uplifting.

I loved the writing, loved the magic with all its darkness and demand for sacrifice and how the women try to carve a place for themselves in a world that’s essentially hostile towards them.

While I fully empathise with Malini and Priya and Bumikha and Rao and Aditya, I really found Chandra’s chapters fascinating as well. A villain through and through but with layers, with motivation – a living breathing human being. He is petty and vindictive, with delusions of grandeur but also there are moments where we see him lost and vulnerable and scared while still being very much the bad guy.

The romance between Malini and Priya is intense, facing one too many obstacles, embroiled in power struggles and magic that is too powerful, too demanding, too consuming. I can’t wait to see how things between develop in the next book because they don’t look very hopeful right now.

I am not ready to talk about Bumikha and all that happens with Ahiranya. Avoiding spoilers, I can only say it offers a fascinating take on what gods and monsters are and the choice we make to follow one or the other.

There is no cliffhanger, some plotlines are completed, though the major resolution is forthcoming in the next book. And it promises to be an epic struggle to make things right for everyone.

This is shaping to be an awesome series, one of the best fantasies I have read and I highly recommend it.

CW: violence, dark magic, sacrifice, burning alive, torture

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Angst

Review: Bend Towards the Sun by Jen Devon

02:30

Title: Bend Towards the Sun
Author: Jen Devon
Date of publication: 9 Aug 2022
Genre: Contemporary romance 

Author's links:

Rating: 4 Stars



Blurb 

Two imperfect people. One year under the sun. A love story you won't ever forget.

Rowan McKinnon doesn’t believe in love. With a botany PhD, two best friends who embrace her social quirkiness, and some occasional no-strings sex, she has everything she needs. But she hides deep wounds from the past—from a negligent mother, and a fiancé who treated her like a pawn in a game. When an academic setback leads Rowan to take on the restoration of an abandoned vineyard, she relishes the opportunity to restore the grapes to their former glory.

She does not expect to meet a man like Harrison Brady.

An obstetrician profoundly struggling after losing a patient, Harry no longer believes he is capable of keeping people safe. Reeling, Harry leaves Los Angeles to emotionally recover at his parents’ new vineyard in Pennsylvania.

He does not expect to meet a woman like Rowan McKinnon.

As their combative banter gives way to a simmering tension, sunlight begins to crack through the darkness smothering Harry’s soul. He’s compelled to explore the undeniable pull between them. And after a lifetime of protecting herself from feeling anything, for anyone, Rowan tries to keep things casual.

But even she can’t ignore their explosive connection.

Review 

This is such a wonderful, somewhat old-school romance but with less misogyny and sexual harassment mistaken for lust. It offers top-level angst, great character development which I greatly enjoyed.  

I absolutely loved the coziness and comfort of the a tight-knit family that have each others back that is at the centre of this story. Rowan is basically an orphan heroine who gets adopted in the hero's family without even realizing it. 

This is exactly the kind of contemporary romance I love - strong internal conflict, no artificial drama, great character development. We really see the MCs on a journey towards each other. 

At the start of the book both Rowan and Harrison are at a rough spot, each of them dealing with their own trauma and hurt. While I liked both of them, I have to say we get slightly more insight into her background and why she is acts the way she does now and this made feel closer to her than to him. With him, it's different - there is a major traumatic event that happened recently and he is recovering from it but we do not get much about his childhood/other events besides that single one. It's only toward the very end that me get more insight into him and why his relations with the rest of the family are the way they are now.

The angst is exquisite and I loved every minute of it. A major plus for me in this romance is the fact that things happened slowly, over the course of a full year. Yes, the attraction between Rowan and Harrison is almost instant from the moment they meet and they do get together well before the year is through but their relationship grew over time. And they both needed that time together and away from each other. Harrison is at a really bad place both physically and emotionally when he met the heroine and we see him gradually heal, we see him getting control over of his depression and panic attacks. It's slow and painful but he get unreserved love and support from his family (and Rowan). 

Rowan melted my heart and I wanted to give her the squishiest hug, Her sense of loneliness and being on her own is so acute, it jumped from the pages straight to my heart. Her fear of making a potentially wrong decision with no safety net to back upon was almost palpable to me. And it really stood out in comparison with the care and support Harrison got from his family and he mostly took for granted. 

There is a third-act break up but it very much made sense in the overall plot. Rowan had to do the biggest grovel to win Harrison back and his family was right there for her and I loved that. 

Now, after all that praise, I admit there were some plot twists towards the end that didn't work for me and I felt they were unnecessary and over-the-top. The emotional intensity and conflict between the MCs were strong enough without these added complications. 

Still, the story is highly readable, flowing easily, great setting (a big close-knit family trying to revive a neglected vineyard they bought), awesome family and close friendships, love expressed with small gestures. 

I'm very much looking forward to more books in the series. I am excited to see a bunch of secondary characters get their HEAs 

CW: grief, parent neglect, ex-partner emotional abuse, loss of a patient, anxiety attacks (graphic, on page), depression

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Nalini Singh

Review: Storm Echo by Nalini Singh

02:30

Title: Silver Silence (Psy-Changeling Trinity #6)
Author: Nalini Singh
Date of publication: 26 July 2022
Genre: Paranormal romance, shifters

Author's links:

Rating: 4 Stars



Blurb 

Silence has fallen. The Psy are free to feel emotion. Free to love. But Silence was never a prison for Ivan Mercant. The biggest threat to his future lies dormant in his brain—a psychic monster that wants only to feed. And now, the brutal leash he’s kept on that monster is slipping. He prepared for this day, for the end of Ivan Mercant . . . but that was before he met Lei.
As primal as she is human, this wild changeling brings color into his life, laughter to his soul. Then the dream shatters in a rain of blood, in silent bodies in the snow. Lei is gone. Vanished without a trace . . . until he meets strangely familiar eyes across a busy San Francisco street.

Soleil Bijoux Garcia is a healer who has lost everything. She exists in a world of desolate aloneness . . . till the day she finds herself face-to-face with a lethal stranger. The animal who is her other half knows this man, but her memories are tattered fragments. Sorrow and a need for vengeance are all that drive her. Her mission? To kill the alpha of the DarkRiver leopard pack.

But fate has other plans. Soon, a deadly soldier who believes himself a monster and a broken healer might be all that stand between life and death for the entire Psy race. . .

Review 



This is another great installment in a favourite series. Psys getting together with changelings are my favourite couples, so much passion and restraint, funny first-time moments, pure joy to read.

Every new book in the series is like a homecoming - a familiar world with a complex overarching suspense plot. And every time Nalini Singh manages to surprise me, to make the romance feel fresh and new.

We get a bit of amnesia plot and while I am not a fan of it in general, I didn't mind it here. The twist was that because the mating has already taken place (unawares for both of them, mind you), the animal side of Lei remembered Ivan.

The suspense/mystery plot gets more and more complicated but we see a possibility for solution here which I liked and felt was the right place and time for it.

Like most stories in the series at this stage we get to catch up on a number of familiar characters. Many of the cats make an appearance - Lucas, Nate, Tamsyn and they are as good as ever.

I loved how to story offered the possibility for family, future, something Ivan had given up on.

Most often the Psy have no experience with feelings and intimacy but as highly logical beings they do proper research of the matter. There is even a guidebook circulated among friends that someone made in the previous books iirc. Ivan, though, didn't research sex/intimate relationships because he didn't think it will ever happen to him. When it came to physical intimacy, he let Lei lead him. His complete trust in her was a thing of beauty for me.

A central element in Ivan's story was drug abuse (not him directly) and its consequences. I found the descriptions to be really detailed and very jarring at times. Seeing it from a child's POV made it extra hard to read. The whole series does not shy away from darkness - abuse, both physical and mental is a common theme for many of the books. Still, the drug use here hit me extra hard and I wanted to mention it explicitly.

In the end we got the HEA for our couple, the overarching suspense plot moved a few steps towards resolution and we got a whole new possible plotline opened. That is all to say that I very much enjoyed this book and I am looking forward to the next in the series.

I find it difficult to list CWs for this series but what stood out for me in the book is: drug abuse, parent neglect, loss, car accident (in the past), attempted murder with grave injuries, psychic violence

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Jessie Mihalik

Review: Eclipse the Moon by Jessie Mihalik

02:30

Title: Eclipse the Moon (Starlight's Shadow #2)
Author: Jessie Mihalik
Publication Date: 12 July 2022
Genres: Sci-Fi Romance

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

My rating: 3 Stars


Blurb

Kee Ildez has been many things: hacker, soldier, bounty hunter. She never expected to be a hero, but when a shadowy group of traitors starts trying to goad the galaxy’s two superpowers into instigating an interstellar war, Kee throws herself into the search to find out who is responsible—and stop them.

Digging up hidden information is her job, so hunting traitors should be a piece of cake, but the primary suspect spent years in the military, and someone powerful is still covering his tracks. Disrupting their plans will require the help of her entire team, including Varro Runkow, a Valovian weapons expert who makes her pulse race.

Quiet, grumpy, and incredibly handsome, Varro watches her with hot eyes but ignores all of her flirting, so Kee silently vows to keep her feelings strictly platonic. But that vow will be put to the test when she and Varro are forced to leave the safety of their ship and venture into enemy territory alone.

Cut off from the rest of their team, they must figure out how to work together—and fast—because a single misstep will cost thousands of lives.

Review 


This second installment of the series gives us space adventures galore but I was underwhelmed by the romance.

The romance conflict hinges on the heroine lusting after hero but thinking he is avoiding her while he is avoiding her because her is attracted to her but feels he can't protect her the way he has too. It is messy and based on a very antiquated sense of chivalry and obligation which was difficult for me to reconcile with the hyper modern space world the story is set in.

I feel the Valovians with all there psychic powers and paranormal abilities are similar to Nalini Singh's psys which I don't mind in principle but the similarity did stand out to me.

I liked Varro for the most part though his sense of guilt and failure over impossible tasks he set to himself became too much. It made sense initially but then it became annoying as it happened over and over again.

Kee was nice enough, a bit your stereotypical hacker girl - a bit wild, a bit loner, smart but not as physically strong as her teammates which made her insecure. In her personal relationship she felt she was too much to her lover - too forward, too emotional (things she has been told by previous partners) and that made her guarded and worried that it would be the same for him.

They kept getting to try to be together only to be pulled apart either by cuircustmace (they are amid a wild chase with the bad guys in space) or by their own feelings of guilt / sense of obligation.

While I enjoyed and was fully invested in the suspense and adventure elements of the story, I felt the romantic arc was unevenly paced. It is not closed door romance but the sex scene (explicit) only happens after 90% mark. I would not describe it as slow burn but rather as a kind of delayed gratification and didn't work for me. Out of the blue we get some domination/submission dynamic thrown in - it honestly felt like Kee and Varro became different people, not the characters I have followed along in the story so far. The romance didn't flow smoothly for me, too many elements in it didn't fit with each other. Of course, this is all subjective interpretation but it's how I read it and why I didn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to.

I have come to realize that Jessie Mihalik's book are more about the space adventures than the romance but when I find the romance unevenly paced and not convincing, I don't know if I will continue with this series. Depends on the MCs, I still might give the next book a go.

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Contemporary Romance

Review: For You & No One Else by Roni Loren

02:30

Title: For You & no One Else (Say Everything #3)
Author: Roni Loren
Date of publication: 5 July 2022
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Author's links:

My rating: 4 Stars



Blurb 

She has the perfect life…and it’s a perfect lie.

Behind the careful façade, she’s struggling:

To feel like she fits in. To find her true voice.

Now, finally, she’s ready to start living her own story.

Eliza Catalano has the perfect life. So what if it actually looks nothing like the story she tells online? As a therapist, it’s part of her job to look like she has all the answers, right? But when Eliza ends up as a viral “Worst Date Ever” meme, everything in her Instagram-filtered world begins to crumble.

Enter the most obnoxiously attractive man she's ever met, and a bet she can't resist: if she swears off social media for six months, Beck Carter’ll teach her the wonders of surviving the "real world." No technology, no dating apps, no pretty filters, no BS.

It seems like the perfect deal—she can lay low until her sudden infamy passes, meet some interesting new people, and maybe even curate this experience into a how I quit the online dating racket book along the way. But something about Beck’s raw honesty speaks to Eliza in ways she never expected. She knows he’s supposed to be completely hands-off…but as complex feelings grow and walls come tumbling down, rough-around-the-edges Beck may be exactly what Eliza needs to finally, truly face herself—and decide who she really wants to be.


Review 

This is the final book in the current series of moving and emotional contemporary romances that are not afraid to tackle heavy subjects. This is how I discovered Roni Loren, my first book of hers was The One You Fight For from her series The Ones Who Got Away who focuses on lives of school shooting surviours finding HEA year later.

This current series though lighter in tone, also explores serious issues - mental health, disability, depression and suicidal ideation, childhood and adult trauma.

I appreciate how the author treat her characters with care and empathy and doesn't exploit their issues for sensational value only. Mind you, I am speaking from an outsider's perspective here and can't say how ownvoices readers would feel about these series. I would definitely recommend checking more reviews and especially CWs before picking any of the books.

This one, I can say, is my favourite in the series. It is a romance featuring an older heroine and a younger hero who try a friends-with-benefits relationship while she is searching offline for Mr. Right.

I liked Eliza a lot. I can't comment of how realistic her representation as a therapist but I found her relatable in her personal life - an intense sense of loneliness after the loss of her parents, longing for a long-term partner, following a specific plan in life both personal and professional.

I found the element of performance on social media and in real life relationship very interesting. She kept putting a happy face online and on dates with the goal to impress, to win people over up to the point that she forgot who she was and what made her happy.

The social media and our presence on it is becoming very noticeably present in contemporary romance but sometimes I feel it overtakes the plot. This was not the case here, mostly because she took a SM break after a non-consented video of her was leaked and went viral going viral for all the wrong reasons. And because the other MC, Beck, was very much anti-SM. The NoPho parties he took her to were interesting and certainly unconventional but they struck me as a bit juvenile. While I liked Beckham a lot, he remained a mystery till the end. He came off as confident and very much in control of his life. He appeared sure of his priorities and life goals. Until he wasn't any more. It was his relationship with Eliza that was eye-opening for him.

There is a third act break up and both parties were to blame for it. They each violated the other person's trust in a way that is hard to forgive. Still I found the groveling and forgiveness scenes convincing and could see Eliza and Beck being together, trying a relationship.

Something that I liked in the series as a whole is the great friendships. Eliza had her friends by her side at all times, talking with them helped her reconsider what happily ever after could be for her and disentangle her own happiness from what society tells you happiness should look like.

It's the epilogue that is my main issue with the story. It was so over the top, a nice wrap up to the whole series but really unnecessary here. It was too conventional for the MCs, like after all the talk about different forms of HEA, they just got the most traditional one. Yes, it took a while and they worked hard for their HEA - he got the counseling he needed and she wrote the book she wanted to write but still it undermined the whole point the story was trying to make about the possibility of alternative HEA.

With this minor complaint in mind, I still would recommend the series if you are looing for contemporary romances with complicated characters finding love where least expected. These are rich, well built stories that don't shy away from heavy themes but ultimately leave us with hope and optimism for the future.

CW: religious cult, addiction (in the past), loss of parents in car accident (in the past), embarrassing video leaked out

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fantasy romance

Review: For the Throne by Hannah Whitten

02:30

Title: For the Throne (Wilderwood #2)
Author: Hannah Whitten
Genre/Themes: Fantasy, Gods and Monsters, Romance
Release Date: 07 June 2022

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...

Red and the Wolf have finally contained the threat of the Old Kings but at a steep cost. Red's beloved sister Neve, the First Daughter is lost in the Shadowlands, an inverted kingdom where the vicious gods of legend have been trapped for centuries and the Old Kings have slowly been gaining control. But Neve has an ally--though it's one she'd rather never have to speak to again--the rogue king Solmir.

Solmir wants to bring an end to the Shadowlands and he believes helping Neve may be the key to its destruction. But to do that, they will both have to journey across a dangerous landscape in order to find a mysterious Heart Tree, and finally to claim the gods' dark, twisted powers for themselves.

Review

This is the second and final? book in the series and I can say I enjoyed it even more than the first one. It's closely connected with the first one to the point that I felt a little lost at the beginning. Would recommend reading the books back to back or at least re-reading the first one before picking this one (if your memory is bad as mine, that is).

This is a gorgeous, lush rather dark fantasy. The plot continues right where were left at the end of book 1. We get multiple POVs, parallel journeys of the sisters to save each other thus saving the world.

The Wilderwood is there but it is changed and Red's team spends most of its time outside of it. Neve is in the Shadowland, and wow, what a place it is - dark and violent, home of Gods and monsters. It tests bonds and shows the corruptive power of magic.

I found it really fascinating both from the point of view of actions and adventures and from the point of view of getting to know Neve and Solmir (as both of them but her in particular get to know themselves better). The exploration of monstrousness, inside us and in the world at large, was really well done and very interesting to me.

The romance between Solmir and Neve is true enemies to lovers, falling for a monster. The lines who is a monster and who is not get blurred all the time, they both are, neither of them is - it is up to reader to make their mind. I really liked the romance, very intense and dramatic. They start with hating each other, there is a lot of anger and hurt, but as their journey unfolds we see a tentative trust appearing, they save each other, literally and figuratively.

Red's journey has just as many twists and turns as Neve's. Her love with Eammon is secure and only grows stronger.

Overall I liked the supporting characters though I have to admit they paled in comparison with Neve and Red.

I loved the ending which I found fitting to the complexity of the story. Everyone gets their HEA/HFN but nothing is simple. The hurts run deep and it takes time and effort for them to heal but we get the possibility for happiness, the hope for a better world and this is exactly what I read romance for.

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CW: death, blood and some gore, violence,

Alexis Hall

Review: A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall

02:00

Title: A Lady for a Duke 
Author: Alexis Hall
Genre/Themes: historical romance / queer / trans heroine
Release Date: 24 May 2022

Author links: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads

My Rating: 5 Stars


Blurb 

When Viola Caroll was presumed dead at Waterloo she took the opportunity to live, at last, as herself. But freedom does not come without a price, and Viola paid for hers with the loss of her wealth, her title, and her closest companion, Justin de Vere, the Duke of Gracewood.

Only when their families reconnect, years after the war, does Viola learn how deep that loss truly was. Shattered without her, Gracewood has retreated so far into grief that Viola barely recognises her old friend in the lonely, brooding man he has become.

As Viola strives to bring Gracewood back to himself, fresh desires give new names to old feelings. Feelings that would have been impossible once and may be impossible still, but which Viola cannot deny. Even if they cost her everything, all over again.

Review 

Note: I am on friendly terms with the author on social media

Note 2: Alexis Hall's book usually touch me deeply and my reviews end up mostly personal reactions to the books rather than proper reviews and this one is no different.

Another gorgeous, gorgeous book by my favourite author!

This is a historical romance with a trans heroine that is pretty angsty and has dark moments but overall is hopeful and full of promise for happiness.

Viola has my heart from the start. Gracewood needed some time to grow and become the duke he was meant to be and I ended loving him as well. Together they are magic. Despite some hurts, despite the difficulties real poses in front of their happiness, they manage to achieve it.

The story was super angsty at the beginning things seem impossible - Gracewood has given up on life after losing his best friend at the battlefield. He is a disabled veteran, with serious childhood and war traumas, barely hanging onto life. Viola is a trans woman, a lady's companion to her sister-in-law, trying to find her place in a hostile world.

There is so much hurt and sadness between Viola and Gracewood, neither of them can a see a future for them, either as friends or as lovers. The deep love between best friends since childhood well into their adulthood grows into a romantic connection and sexual attraction and it was beautiful thing to see it developing on page.

This story is not about transphobia and I am so happy the author made that choice. Viola has a loving and supporting family. The focus was on her and how she navigates the world as a trans woman, rather than on how the world sees / reacts to her. These is no forced coming out, no gender-based violence, and I love that. The author shows the same kindness to Gracewood - his injury is a serious issue for him, his PTSD (undiagnosed and untreated at the time) causes him a lot of discomfort but we never really see other characters humiliating or degrading him over it.

The tension is high but all the physical violence is mostly in the past both for Viola and Gracewood. There is a fighting scene that was quite brutal but I felt it was balanced out by a number of tender moments (Viola and Gracewood dancing, her shaving him).

I rarely comment on sex scenes in my reviews but I want to say how much I liked the one in this book. It was so fitting to the characters, something that I don't find very often in romance. They were the same Viola and Gracewood that see in the rest of the story, they didn't magically transform into someone else. There was desire and need but also hesitancy and trepidation. They talked things through, explored each other, it was beautiful and touching.

I felt that despite the angst and trauma this was a very romantic romance - tender and intimate, the love confessions were amazing, his marriage proposal was all tenderness and care and forever kind of love with a touch of humour.

I appreciate the story as a whole with all the side characters. Viola and Gracewood are two soulmates who find a way to the HEA they want in a world that is ostensibly not made for them. But from the start they have people in their lives that love and support them and show them that happiness is a possibility. Badger and Louise are in happy marriage, Miranda finds a way to live the life she wants. I found all this very happy making and hopeful, exactly what I want in my romances.

The story ends with the perfect epilogue. Viola gets what she wants - marriage and children and a big sweeping love story.

CW: war trauma, violence, kidnapping, PTSD, war injury, drug abuse


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1001 nights

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah

02:30

Title: The Stardust Thief 
Author: Chelsea Abdullah
Date of publication: 17 May 2022
Genre / Themes: Fantasy / Jinns 

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

My rating: 5 Stars



Blurb 

Neither here nor there, but long ago…

Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.

With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.


Review

This is a debut adult fantasy inspired by 1001 Nights stories that I enjoyed a lot. It's an engaging adventure story, fast paced, entertaining, full of magic - jinns and ifrits and magical relics

The world building is outstanding, it transports right into the desert in a very real and very magical way. The desert with all its secrets and magic was like a living character in the story. The magic system is not overly complicated, it made sense to make and was easy to follow which is not always the case in high fantasy.

We have a group of different, even opposite characters brought together by the circumstances together on a quest through the desert. Aisha stood out to me with her loyalty and revenge that fueled her action in the story. She starts a a jinn hunter with a single focus on her mission only to learn things are not always what they seem to be, there is more than loyalty and revenge. There is friendship and trust and tentative even if elusive happiness.

Mazen is a gentle, bookish second son of the sultan, carrying his mother's love of love of stories, dreaming of adventure but being completely ill-suited for it - he is shy, pampered and protected. He doesn't become a fearless warrior but he learns how to go for things he wants, he learns to act instead of always hiding. He suffers betrayal and loss but gains friends (sort of) that he wants to keep safe and protect.

Loulie - is everything - a force of nature unstoppable, independent but also vulnerable, we see her completely defeated and in despair only to find her strength again, not without the help of Qadir. Her resilience is formidable but it's her vulnerability that broke me. Her grief, her sense of loss, of her own self included, was heart-breaking.

Qadir is a very interesting character in this story - Loulie's sullen bodyguard for those who don't know them but in truth he is her most trusted friend, her guardian. Yet, he remains mysterious, secretive almost till the end. Theirs was really the most interesting relationship for me. They are very close, they are each other's destiny (not in a romantic sense). He needs her as much as she needs him.

The story plays a lot with lies and deception, the different personas the characters assume and I loved seeing that the world is not just black and white, it's all about nuance. People have many sides, they are always changing and growing.

Another central element in the story was the storytelling itself, the power of words to shape our world. I have always loved 1001 Nights for the magic of the stories Scheherazade tells, they create worlds and save lives. Mazen is Scheherazade's son and he carries her heritage as a storyteller.

There is no cliffhanger but the ending made me excited for the sequel. The desert has so many more stories to tell. Mazen and Loulie's adventure is far from over.

CW: parental death, patricide, violence, torture

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Historical Romance

Review: To Marry and to Meddle by Martha Waters

02:30

Title: To Marry and to Meddle
Author: Martha Waters
Date of publication: 5 Apr 2022
Genre / Themes: Historical Romance / Romcom

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

My rating: 5 Stars



Blurb 

Lady Emily Turner has been a debutante for six seasons now and should have long settled into a suitable marriage. However, due to her father’s large debts, her only suitor is the persistent and odious owner of her father’s favorite gambling house. Meanwhile, Lord Julian Belfry, the second son of a marquess, has scandalized society as an actor and owner of a theater—the kind of establishment where men take their mistresses, but not their wives. When their lives intersect at a house party, Lord Julian hatches a plan to benefit them both.

With a marriage of convenience, Emily will use her society connections to promote the theater to a more respectable clientele and Julian will take her out from under the shadows of her father’s unsavory associates. But they soon realize they have very different plans for their marriage—Julian wants Emily to remain a society wife, while Emily discovers an interest in the theater. But when a fleeing actress, murderous kitten, and meddlesome friends enter the fray, Emily and Julian will have to confront the fact that their marriage of convenience comes with rather inconvenient feelings.

Review 

I have enjoyed the first two books in the series immensely and was super excited for the third one. It absolutely lived up to my expectations and went well beyond them. It's delightful, fun and whimsical. there are some ridiculous shenanigans though less than in the previous two book. There is a stronger internal conflict coupled with great banter and awesome friendships. I appreciate how the whole series avoids series drama and gives us a doze of pure fun instead. 

I was already a fan of both MCs whom we meet back in book 1. Belfry was interesting and just a cinnamon roll under the disguise of a rogue but it was Emily was stole the show for me. I liked everything about her, her journey to be herself (that she could only undertake once she got married), her curiosity, her boldness couple with occasional doubts and hesitation. 

It was the fact that Belfry was he was (supportive, kind, open-minded) that in turned led Emily to be more outspoken, more confident in her opinions and desires.

As I have come to expect, the writing was great, the story flowed easily and had me laugh out loud numerous times. The supporting cast was interesting, full-fledged even if we see them for just a couple of pages.

Ii don't read enough historical romance to compare this story to other books in the subgenre but I am very much becoming a fan of the author and I am excited to see what she will write next. I hope there will be more books in the series, I desperately want to read West and Sophie's story

In short, this is an exquisite historical romance - passionate marriage of convenience, some friendly shenanigans, a bit of family drama. I can highly recommend the whole series (so far :) if you are looking for an escapist, feel-good historical romance, I highly recommend all three books. 

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PS: The image of the most glaringly yellow vest in the world will forever me a symbol of love to me






Dark

Review: Only a Monster by Vanessa Len

02:59

Title: Only a Monster
Author: Vanessa Len
Date of publication: 17 Feb 2022
Genre: Urban fantasy

Author's links:

My rating: 5 stars





Blurb

In every story there is a hero and a monster.

It should have been the perfect summer. Sent to stay with her late mother's eccentric family in London, sixteen-year-old Joan is determined to enjoy herself. She loves her nerdy job at the historic Holland House, and when her super cute co-worker Nick asks her on a date, it feels like everything is falling into place.

Then a Good Samaritan attempt gone wrong sends Joan spinning through time, and her life quickly begins to unravel.
Her family aren't just eccentric: they're monsters, with terrifying, hidden powers.And Nick isn't just a cute boy: he's a legendary monster slayer, who will do anything to bring them down.

As she battles Nick, Joan is forced to work with the beautiful and ruthless Aaron Oliver, heir to a monster family that hates her own. She'll have to embrace her own monstrousness if she is to save herself, and her family. Because in this story . . .

. . . she is not the hero.

Review

What an absolutely gorgeous book!

On the surface the story is similar to most YA (a girl discovers magical/monster world, goes on a quest, is thorn between two boys, finds her true self) but the author took the familiar tropes and twisted on its head making a truly original work.

This is dark, not bloody or gory but really dark and I was hesitant to pick it because of that (all the red and black on the US cover made think it might not be the book for me) but now I am so glad I trusted my friends who praised it highly and decided to read it.

It's a mesmerizing tale, not so much suspenseful as full of unexpectedness. I could neve predict what will happen next, yet when it did, it all felt natural, fitting to the story and the characters. Masterful writing and plotting, even more impressive considering it is a debut.

I loved the writing and the rich world building, London, where I have never been - modern and old, 90s fashion that I am all too familiar with.

Beside the great plot development, it is the characters that really stood out to me. Morally grey, complex, changing and growing. The story is effortlessly diverse, queer (so happy we got happy gays, and not bury the guys side plot).

Joan is amazing. The story is told from her POV and we really got to experience it all - her confusion, pain and hope and determination. What I loved most about her was her innocence, her naivete of sorts that made her never give up and always look for solutions, helped her see things outside the rules of the monster world.

Aaron and Nick were fantastic characters as well. So were all the side characters. It's one of those stories where readers feel the need to pick teams and I am team Aaron all the way. I understand Nick might be her soulmate and I have all the sympathy for him but Aaron completely won me over. We know less about him, we got only bits from his past and the trauma but he was someone who knew what the consequences would be and still did what he did for Joan. That is jus the ultimate love for me (in books at least).

It's a story about the nature of memories, the process of remembering and forgetting and this led to some powerful scenes that brought tears to my eyes. It's a fast paced adventure, there was no time to feel melancholic or contemplative while reading, I was in a hurry to see what would happen next. After I finished it though, I had all the time to think about my own memories. I love it when a book stays with me like that after I finish it

The story opens with a gentle start and then boom! magic and it's go, go, go from there till the very end. The rare moments of calms were so achingly tender, intimate, I will cherish them forever.

The story is self contained, yet full of possibilities. I have been discussing it with friends and enjoy seeing the different interpretation, details I missed and others saw and vice versa, theories of what might happen next.

In short, this book has been a glorious reading adventure and I highly recommend it to fans of YA Urban fantasy.

CW: murder, violence, blood, imprisonment, torture, brainwashing, death of parents of MCs (in the past)

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Beth O'Leary

Review: The No-Show by Beth O'Leary

02:30

Title: The No-Show
Author: Beth O'Leary 
Date of publication: 12 April 2022
Genre: Women's Fiction, UK setting 

Author's links:

My rating: 3 stars





Blurb

Three women. Three dates. One missing man...

8.52. Siobhan's been looking forward to her breakfast date with Joseph. She was surprised when he suggested it - she normally sees him late at night in her hotel room. Breakfast with Joseph on Valentine's Day surely means something ... so where is he?

14.43. Miranda's hoping that a Valentine's Day lunch with Carter will be the perfect way to celebrate her new job. It's a fresh start and a sign that her grown-up life is finally falling into place: she's been dating Carter for five months now and things are getting serious. But why hasn't he shown up?

18.30. Joseph Carter agreed to be Jane's fake boyfriend at a colleague's engagement party. They've not known each other long but their friendship is fast becoming the brightest part of her new life in Winchester. Joseph promised to save Jane tonight. But he's not here...

Meet Joseph Carter. That is, if you can find him.

The No-Show is the brilliantly funny, heart-breaking and joyful new novel from Beth O'Leary about dating, and waiting, and the ways love can find us. An utterly extraordinary tearjerker of a book, this is O'Leary's most ambitious novel yet.

Review 

Prefacing this review to say that I read an eARC of the UK edition, so I went in expecting women's fiction and this is pretty much what I got. I will into more details about this towards the end of my review.

I will keep my review vague to avoid spoilers because this story relies on the unexpected and the reader needs to figure things for themselves as the story develops,.

This was a first for me by this author and I found it very readable with strong mystery/suspense element. It is masterfully written with an interesting choice of story-telling, keeping the reader questioning, guessing, trying to figure out what is happening. I liked the disjointed timeline, the unreliability of all the narrators kept me guessing and I was completely engrossed in the story.

I found all the characters to be very well drawn, with strong, distinctive voice, each of them on its own unique journey. Joseph, on the other hand, remained elusive till the final section of the book. It was done on purpose to keep the mystery but it also made it harder for me to relate to him.

I really, really liked the women's stories, different but also similar in their focus on love/family/professional success. They were touching stories about wanting, and loving, the curveballs life throws at us and the way we dodge or take them head on.

At the center of it all were the lies we tell - to others and to ourselves, the time we stay silent for our own sake or for others and ultimately gaining the strength to speak up.

After this praise, I have come to the point near the end that completely threw me off and I couldn't quite accept it. Spoilers ahead:

A main characters dies tragically and then the timelines come together to focus on the hero. I didn't see it coming and I wish the author made a different choice regarding this character. It was framed as necessary for the overall story to happen but deep down it felt wrong to me to kill a main character struggling with mental illness just when they were on the mend and seeing a path forward towards the future they wanted. I felt cheated, this death tainted the HEA for the other characters.

I still want to read more from this author, it is just that I had different expectations of this book based on the blurb.

Now, I want to discuss the marketing of this book. The US blurb describes it as "cute romcom" and I feel this disingenuous and misleading, even harmful to the romance readers. I didn't find the story funny beside a couple of jokes here and there but humour is subjective and I don't want to debate the comedy aspect. My issue is that this story despite being very emotional and moving, exploring different romantic relationships, is not a romance because there is no HEA for all MCs.

CW: mental breakdown, sexual predator, manipulation, side character with dementia, death of an MC

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Contemporary Romance

Review: Two Nights to Forever

02:45

Title: Two Nights to Forever (Orchard Hill #2)
Author: Rebecca Crowley
Date of publication: 11 April 2022 
Genre: Contemporary romance, Jewish romance

Author's links:

My rating: 4 stars


Blurb

Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but love just might…

Eve Klein almost has it all: a thriving career, great friends, and adoptive parents who’ve supported her in everything—including her quest to find her birth mother. She’s hired a private investigator, and while she waits for the last piece of her history to make her whole, she focuses on the most exciting deal of her career—a controlling share in Keller and Sons, a luxury watchmaker.

To most people Keller watches are status symbols, but to Saul Keller they’re handcuffs. He thought his brother had everything under control, until a distress call from an employee forced him to leave Wall Street and move home to Orchard Hill, Missouri. A year on, he’s shifted from trying to save the family business to selling it—and finally setting himself free.

Eve is Saul’s most exciting—and alluring—professional adversary, and he’s exactly the type of high-flyer she’s sworn to stop falling for. But when she needs his help to prepare for a Passover seder with her birth mother, the lines between business and pleasure become perpetually blurred.

Review 

This is another cozy romance by an author whose books I generally enjoy and this one was very soothing for me to read in rough times.

This is contemporary romance with two Jewish MCs who are not very strict in practicing their religion but still observe the Jewish holidays and traditions in one form or another.

Eve is someone who longs to belong and to be loved (carrying the trauma of being given up for adoption at birth); Saul is struggling to find his place in the family business, feeling left out/unwanted. I loved seeing both MCs finding their footing, discovering who they are and what they want in life.

The focus in the story was very much on the internal struggle of fitting in, of being confident in your choices and I found it all very relatable. Both Eve and Saul were successful in their profession, had great loving families but still a sense of lack and loss and something missing.

There was strong chemistry between them right from the start but their professional relationship and current life goals made it nearly impossible to be together. The romance was passionate and tender with underlying strong friendship, understanding, admiration for the achievements of the other.

The story came off as a bit heteronormative and traditional with a focus on family. I wished we saw Eve's adoptive parents on page, not only hearing her praise for them. Focusing only on her relationship seeing her birth mother and her new family felt odd to me.

It's a happy making story, low conflict, offering an overly optimistic world view but I didn't mind it. I was happy with the accents in the business aspect - support of local community, women-led business, ethical business practices.

CW: adoption, difficult relationship with birth mother, bullying in school (in the past)

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